For the last seven years the Allegheny County Department of Minority, Women and Disadvantaged Business Enterprise has hosted an open house filled with information, opportunities and comminatory. The eighth year was no different.

“This is a very important department within Allegheny County,” emphasized M. Gale Moss, chair of the MBE Advisory Committee. “With the unstable economy, the services provided by this office and staff are key in helping you meet your goals. Minority businesses are important. They are essential to the city, county and country.”

SHARING SECRETS—Spreading the word about programs offered by the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission, Sarah M. Francis a loan administrator provides a wealth of information.

On hand during the open house sharing and disbursing information were Sarah Francis, business loan administrator at the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission; David Forman, purchasing agent at the Allegheny County Purchasing Division; Alice Williams, independent associate of; and Ruth Byrd-Smith, director of the Allegheny County MWDBE Department.

Interested in getting the word out about programs offered by the SPC, Francis’ organization has been a part of the open house since its inception. “We want entrepreneurs to know there are programs available to assist them. That they are not by their self,” Francis pointed out.

The SPC is the regional planning agency serving the Pittsburgh 10-county area and providing essential services to the region by directing the use of all state and federal transportation and economic development funds allocated to the region. As an economic development agency one of its responsibilities is to direct southwestern Pennsylvania businesses to sources of state and federal loan assistance, focused particularly on the support of manufacturing and job creation in the region.

Designed to assist mostly for-profit businesses, Francis operates the Small Business Finance SPC Programs. Providing technical assistance and offering low interest financing, the programs are intended to assist entrepreneurs in their business expansion and development projects. Interested in employment, growing businesses and growing businesses in the region, SPC works with establishments with 100 employees or less that exist as a manufacturer and businesses that produce products, distribution sites and warehouse businesses.

SPC Small Business Finance Program loans are inclusive of the Community and Economic Development Loan Program, the Small Business First Loan Fund, the First Industries-Agriculture Program and the First Industries Tourism Program. Loan amounts for the programs can range from $40,000 to $200,000 with eligible usage for land and building acquisition, construction, or renovation and working capital. Because of the diversity in programs and services the SPC offers, Francis suggests interested parties view their website at or contact her by calling 412-391-5590 extension 318.

Like Francis, Williams is trying to introduce programs and products that assist entrepreneurs. Her product, she says offers solutions for small businesses. GoSmallBiz offers a cluster of services aimed at helping entrepreneurs run and grow their businesses. She calculated that there are more than 52,000 companies country wide providing a comprehensive body of knowledge and tools targeted specifically at the micro business. “The toolbox offers an array of services including legal, advertising, marketing and human resources as well as assistance in building a web site. It provides help sorting through the alphabet soup of business,” described Williams. A product of Pre-Paid Legal Services, founded by entrepreneur and NFL Hall of Famer, Fran Tarkenton, the SmallBuz Directory section of is the place for small business owners to connect, network and receive exposure for their business. Its resource library is available to any entrepreneur to register their business or to utilize. All services are web based.

A former entrepreneur, Byrd-Smith knows and understands the needs of the MWDBEs she serves. “The department works to ensure that minority-owned, women-owned, and disadvantaged businesses have the best opportunity to obtain and perform contracts with Allegheny County,” said Byrd-Smith.

The open house is her department’s way to feature information regarding MWDBE services that address legal and financial concerns of small businesses. During the event Forman said the County’s electronic bidding process and Jo Ann Forrester of S. I. Business Services discussed the Allegheny County Construction Contractors Institute. She introduced participants and explained that the 8 week class implemented to assist contracting firms certified through the Pennsylvania Unified Certification Program deals with the nuts and bolts of operating and expanding ones business.

Pleased with the outcome of the open house, Byrd-Smith said the event provided a chance for MWDBEs to network with Allegheny County departments, other local businesses, as well as to learn about the newest business and contract opportunities. “Businesses have blossomed as a result of services provide through our department. I encourage businesses within the County or businesses wishing to do business within the County to use and to continue to use the serves we provide,” Byrd-Smith said.

The Allegheny County Department of MWDBE provides certification as a Minority, Women and Disadvantaged Business Enterprise, to qualifying firms. All prospective MWDBE firms wishing to participate in the Allegheny County MWDBE Program must be certified with Allegheny County.

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