PREPARING THE NEXT GENERATION—COO Melissa and CEO Michele Rice works with the next generation of Rice Enterprises, preparing Brittany as store manager. (Photos by Diane I. Daniels)


by Diane I. Daniels
For New Pittsburgh Courier
The future to many is a sign of hope. Entering the year 2013 also brings a renewed sense of optimism and confidence to small business owners throughout the area.
If it were up to Ricardo “Rick” Williams the executive director of the Homewood-Brushston YMCA all people in the East End would possess the attitude of hopefulness and would be living the American dream. But in a time of economic uncertainty, with national disasters creating havoc and with the African-America unemployment rate at an estimated 14.7 percent according to 2010 American Community Survey data from the Census Bureau, his job is to deal with the realities at hand.
Employment within the African-American community is something Williams is concerned about. “Through our Career Workforce Development Center we average 50 to 75 job seekers a week,” Williams calculated. “Instead of the one job fair we normally host, in 2012 we hosted two. This year we plan to expand our services to include job readiness workshops, and to focus more on soft skills and going back to the basics.”
Basic job searching skills is something Stephanie Durrett, owner of SD Transit, Inc. says is needed. Always looking for qualified workers and with the goal to increase her staff she admits that many people have applied for jobs that she could not hire because they were not prepared.
A provider of transportation services, SD Transit operates a fleet of approximately 50 school vans, busses and fully equipped motor coaches. Located at 512 Braddock Avenue, Durrett says she is always in need of mechanics, maintenance people and certified drivers. As a way to assist her employees SD serves as a training site for Safety and CDL classes.  
The employer of more than 1000 people, Rice Enterprises, LLC owned and operated by sisters Michele and Melissa Rice feel training is needed at all levels from entry to management. The owners of 15 McDonald’s throughout the county, they say one reason why they love their positions is because they get to help a lot of people.
“We get to mentor many young men and women on life and career skills that will be valuable throughout their lives,” says Michele. Melissa pointed out, “We employ a lot of people all over the Pittsburgh area and give many teenagers the opportunity to start at McDonald’s to gain work experience and tools that they can use throughout their lifetime.”  
Durrett and the Rice sisters only provide a small number of jobs compared to the 14,000 positions available in the region. The estimated count is provided by research conducted by the Allegheny Conference on Community Development. Jobs are reported to be available in the fields of banking, health care, the hospitality industry as well as fields requiring a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics background.      
Ed Gainey, newly elected state representative 24the district, also considers small business as a catalyst to employment and access to contracts as a significant subject of importance. “Once I get situated in my position that is something I have to research and see who to work with.”
Pinpointing opportunities in the Marcellus Shale project as an important industry he said he feels African Americans have not had access to.  
With the mission to develop business opportunities for minority-owned enterprises by certifying and linking them to corporations and public agencies, Alexander Nichols agrees with Gainey.  The President and CEO of the Western Pennsylvania Minority Supplier Development Council says the Marcellus Shale geological formation will provide tremendous economic opportunity in this region and the state for years to come.
With a strong relationship with the Marcellus Shale Coalition his organization often hosts workshops and information sessions. During their 2012 Town Hall Meeting held at the Coalition’s Moon Township facility, the Marcellus on Main Street online business directory was discussed. The site (www.MarcellusOnMainStreet.org) according to Joy Ruff, Marcellus Shale Coalition Community Outreach Manager is designed to connect the natural gas industry with small-and-medium-sized businesses across the shale gas region.       
With the region receiving numerous accolades throughout 2012, the microscope is focused. What will 2013 bring? Will more African-American youth graduate, take advantage of the Pittsburgh Promise to prepare themselves to become the next employee, entrepreneur, politician or leader?
As Williams prepares to bring forth projects and programs for the betterment of the community, as State Legislator Gainey heads to Harrisburg to fight for the people and as President Barak Obama embarks upon his second and last term as President striving to move the country forward, it seems to be up to the people to utilize the available leadership, resources and opportunities at hand. “This is an exciting time, it’s a new day and it’s time for the people to move forward,” said Gainey.  

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