News Column

Start Small Business, 'Dream' Big

Oct. 18, 2012

David Burge, El Paso Times, Texas


To succeed in business you need to have a dream and keep plugging away through the tough times, said a handful of successful minority business owners.

"It's about having a dream and keeping that dream going," said Martha Harris, the former chief executive officer and current chairwoman of the board for Man-Machine Systems Assessment Inc.

Harris is one of seven minority business owners and advocates who will be honored next week at the annual Minority Enterprise Development Week Breakfast and Awards Ceremony.

She was named the winner of the 8(a) Graduate Firm of the Year by the U.S. Small Business Administration's El Paso District Office. The SBA's 8(a) program helps companies get contracts with the federal government.

Harris said she got lots of mentoring through the SBA to help her along the path of business ownership.

The Minority Business Development Agency Business Center, run by the El Paso Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and the SBA's El Paso District Office are teaming up to recognize the contributions of minority businesses. The Hispanic Chamber will give out five of the awards, and the SBA will give out two.

The event will be Oct. 25 at the El Paso Club, 201 E. Main, in the Chase Bank building in Downtown. This is a part of a national celebration of minority businesses.

Terri Reed, senior vice president for entrepreneurial development at the Hispanic Chamber, said it's important to recognize the contributions of minority businesses and their advocates for the important role they play in the community and the economy.

Harris and her husband, Calvin, started their business about 23 years ago. They test and evaluate weapons systems and other equipment for the federal government. Their largest client is the Army, they said.

Harris said it was a challenge getting started in a male-dominated field, but she persevered by having faith that they had a good business plan and good employees to back them up.

Their daughter, Lillian Harris, is now the chief executive officer of the company.

"We established a company culture that is family oriented," Calvin Harris said. "We love our employees. The challenge has been, as we've grown, to maintain that family culture. We've managed to do that."

Cecilia Ochoa Levine is the president and owner of MFI International, a contract manufacturing company with operations in El Paso, Juárez, other locations in Mexico and China.

Her company was named Minority Export Firm of the Year.

"One of the things I feel very strongly about is if the U.S. economy is to turn around, it will be through manufacturing and exporting," Levine said. "The products we manufacture are not only for U.S. consumption but go throughout the world."

Along the U.S.-Mexico border is the perfect geographic location for her company, she added.

Her main business model is to use parts made in the United States, assemble products in Mexico and then export them throughout the world.

"There's no other place in the world that gives minorities such opportunities," Levine said. "Here in the United States, you have the ability to use your ingenuity. Coupled with the right financing, you really can kick off your business."

Using resources like the Hispanic Chamber and the SBA can also help business owners to succeed, she added.

Maggie Chacon is the owner of Structural Steel Services, which was named Minority Manufacturer of the Year.

She and her husband, Roy Chacon, who serves as general manager, started the business out of their home nine years ago. They now have a 3.1 acre facility in far East El Paso and employ 25 people, Maggie Chacon said.

The company fabricates and supplies structural steel and rebar to be used in the construction of commercial buildings, shopping centers, schools and churches.

It is also a retailer of steel joists, bridging, steel floors and roof decks.

"I wasn't expecting to get this award," Maggie Chacon said. "To me, it means we are growing. We are giving back to the community by keeping people employed. To me, our people are what make this company. Without them, well, I really don't have the words."

Distributed by MCT Information Services

Source: (c) 2012 the El Paso Times (El Paso, Texas)

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