Minority-owned businesses must learn to collaborate their resources and take advantage of technology if they are to compete for today's business contracts, panelists stressed at Saturday's Congressional Black Caucus business conference in Charleston.
U.S. Congressman Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., hosted "Building Wealth in Communities of Color," the fourth annual conference jointly sponsored by the James E. Clyburn Research and Scholarship Foundation and the Medical University of South Carolina.
Panelists offered personal experiences and key information to small, minority and women business owners interested in contracting with private-sector companies and state and federal governmental agencies. About 250 people attended the daylong event at the Westin Francis Marion Hotel.
"Our current state of affairs indicates that we have some tremendous opportunities ahead of us and some tremendous challenges ahead of us," Clyburn said of minority businesses being able to seize opportunities. "Conferences like this can play a very critical role."
West Ashley-based financial planner Keith Waring, a panelist, said the lack of commercial development projects in traditional black communities is halting wealth opportunities in communities of color.
According to Waring, there are no black professionals in the area with a Membership in the Appraisal Institute designation. Only MAI appraisers are recognized by banks, and there are barely 30 in the area.
He said he's seen where black commercial property has been grossly undervalued, which stops the cash flow to black communities by blocking development.
"Development creates an economy, that's why it's measured nationally," Waring said. "To a large extent, we are on the sidelines observing."
On a more positive note, North Charleston businessman William Summerhill said he's seen some private-sector automotive companies set attainable goals to spend portions of its purchasing dollars with minority companies.
After working 20 years with Robert Bosch Corp., Summerhill started his own business in 1999.
He handles procurement and supplies parts to Bosch, which provides automotive parts to Ford. His business has grown from two to four full-time employees, all minorities.
"Doing business with minorities is not about quotas," Summerhill said of a mind-set he's experienced from businesses. "It's simply about fairness; it's about inclusion."
Johnnie Booker of the Office of Supplier Diversity with the Coca Cola Co. in Atlanta was the keynote speaker. During her first year with the company, contracts with minority- and women-owned businesses increased by 50 percent, exceeding the company's goal by 27 percent.
She urged minority business owners to seek certification in their field, know how to market their services and be aware of their strengths and weaknesses.
"If you're not already on the information highway, you've got some catching up to do," Booker added.
Overall, those in attendance praised the conference.
"We'll be tracking the development of this," said Dr. Sabra Slaughter, USC's chief of staff.
Past conferences have focused on housing, health care and historically black colleges and universities.
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