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New center pitched to grow African-American businesses

Within the next two weeks, two people – one with the title of executive director and the other an administrative assistant – will begin walking in and out of a small-business incubator located downtown at 158 Madison.

by Tony Jones
Special to the Tri-State Defender

Within the next two weeks, two people – one with the title of executive director and the other an administrative assistant – will begin walking in and out of a small-business incubator located downtown at 158 Madison.

That’s where a Minority Business Development Agency center will be located when it comes online, which is projected to be by the middle of June. It will be the first such center that the U.S. Department of Commerce has authorized in the state.

That future was shared with the public on Monday during a joint press conference structured by Congressman Steve Cohen and the locally-based Mid-South Minority Business Council Continuum (The MMBC Continuum), which operates the business incubator. Chosen to receive the Department of Commerce’s 2011 Advocate of the Year Award, MMBC will serve as a local clearinghouse, identifying potentially qualified businesses to access the federal process.

One million dollars dispensed over four years will be funneled into the center in an effort to help qualified African-American-owned businesses gain access to major level financing and contracts.  

In his written statement announcing the office, Cohen said he has been working for years to get the Commerce Department here.

“(The) MBDA is the only federal agency created specifically to foster the establishment and growth of minority-owned businesses in America,” Cohen said, “focusing on securing large public and/or private contracts and financing transactions, stimulating job creation and retention, and facilitating entry to global markets for eligible minority-owned businesses.”

The key word here is large. If the model is successful, the federal office would help crack the laser-beamed portal to financing and contracts that African-American businesses largely have not been able access, whether the cause is racism, lack of growth financing or vision.

So, if you feel you may have the next Facebook in your hand, the expanded access of the federal office would be there to take you to the funding you would need to make it actually happen.

The need is well documented.

According to the 2000 U.S. Census, while 20 percent of the businesses here are owned by African Americans, less than one percent of the dollars generated here find their way into businesses owned by African Americans. For the MMBC Continuum’s Luke Yancy III, changing that situation is a passion and a workable mission.

While some are skeptical and even grumble about a $1 million commitment they view as peanuts, Yancy, president and CEO of the Continuum, certainly sounds optimistic.

“Tremendous,” he said of the commitment in place. “They are the door openers we need to help businesses grow into industries. For example, say you have a company that can manufacture 1,000 widgets a day, but you can only get enough orders to sell 300. That means you are operating below capacity.  The challenge then is to find access to the businesses that can give you the orders and the access to the capital needed to bring your facility to full capacity.  Minority firms find it hard to get that access. This will help.”

The new center’s funding is tethered to concentrating on ethnic-minority businesses.

 

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