GREENVILLE — Minorities make up about 60% of the population of the Delta, but only 14% of the businesses in the area are minority owned. Yet when the economy is depressed and factory jobs are lost, starting a small business can be an alternative to long-term unemployment or underemployment.
S.B. Buck, president of the Delta Regional Minority Business Association (DRMBA), is a case in point.
Buck spent 22-1/2 years at Cooper Industries working his way up to general foreman before getting laid off in a downsizing in 1995. With other decent jobs hard to come by, Buck — who had always loved cooking — purchased a restaurant business. Buck’s Restaurant, open since 1996, now employs six people.
The goal of the DRMBA is to help minorities in the Delta start their own businesses, providing jobs and stimulating the economy.
“Our main purpose is to make individuals aware of the lack of minority businesses in the area, and assist those who have an idea for a small business in bringing it to light,” Buck said. “A lot of people want to go into business, but they don’t know how. Our point is to have a plan. We tell them the proper place to go for information or funding. DRMBA encourages development of businesses that put people to work to keep the economy flowing. The intention is to help others start a business that will also help the economy. We bring businesses together to form a unity so we can do business with each other as well as others. That is the main focus of DRMBA.”
Buck said the Delta economy is extremely slow right now, and that is stressful especially for people who are used to working and have now found themselves without a job.
“I think the attitude is pretty bad right now,” Buck said. “We’ve got to educate people in new ways of making a living. They have to find new ways to support themselves and their families without depending on factories and things like that. They have to make a way for themselves.”
DRMBA recently held its fifth annual awards banquet at which outstanding local minority businesses were recognized for their achievements. The banquet, which had Gov. Ronnie Musgrove as the keynote speaker, attracted a record number of participants. More than 300 people attended, and shared success stories, networked and made plans to help other people start businesses or increase employment at their existing business.
“We have asked each business to employ one more person between 2002 and 2003,” Buck said. “We are encouraging people to increase their business in order to employ more people. Our turnout at the last banquet was amazing. We didn’t have standing room left. It was important just bringing people together recognizing those who have achieved and who are trying to achieve. We all left there sold that this is the way to go. I think if we can continue the progress we have already established, this organization will be a force to do good things in this community.”
DRMBA’s primary objective is to serve as educational vehicle for minority business owners, says Larry Williams, who founded the organization in 1996.
“It is also a networking association to try and spur more business opportunities between minority business owners,” said Williams, who is vice president of the Industrial Foundation of Washington County.
“The overall purpose is to move minority owners towards standard business practices. We provide technical assistance and training for minority business owners in areas such as business planning, marketing and business management — all the things needed to have a successful business.
“We also encourage mainstream business owners to do more business with minority businesses in order to diversity the economy. That speaks well of the overall mainstream economy. We’re all in this together, in the Delta especially, and working together the overall quality of life in the Delta should be improved. More jobs and more minority-owned businesses translate into a stronger overall economy.”
A challenge in the Delta is that it is one of the most economically depressed regions in the nation. About 35% of the population is below the poverty level. Williams said it just makes good sense to encourage more entrepreneurism in the minority population as a way to move the area ahead economically.
Minority business ownership in the Delta is strong compared to other areas of the state and the region. For example, statewide about 10% of businesses are minority owned compared to 14% in Greenville and most other areas of the Delta.
“However, in the past most minority- owned businesses have been in traditional fields like funeral homes and beauty salons,” Williams said. “But since 1990 minority business ownership has diversified a lot, and now minority business owners have gained a foothold in non-traditional areas such as computers, electronics, finance and insurance. Since 1990 we have seen a great increase in those types of minority businesses. The trend seems to be continuing.”
Williams said the annual awards banquet was started in order to provide recognition to minority business owner’s contributions to the overall economy. By telling those success stories, it also signifies to others in the minority population that they also can develop the entrepreneurial spirit and be successful.
“Certainly from a state perspective the more small business development there is not just in the Delta but the entire state, the better off the entire state economy will be,” Williams said. “It has been proven that small businesses employ about 80% of the workforce. So it is extremely important that minority business development comes into the forefront of all economic development efforts. It should be one of the key points of economic development efforts in most areas of the state.”
White women are also considered minorities by the Small Business Administration, and some were recent winners.
Recipients of the recent awards were judged not just on business success, but on volunteer contributions to the community.
Will Jenkins with Allstate Insurance Co. received the DRMBA Minority Business of the Year award.
Williams said that Jenkins has been in business for more than 22 years, and has been very successful. “He is well respected and liked in the community overall,” he said.
Two businesses received the Minority Female Business of the Year award:
Brenda Poke and Beverly Anderson, owners of the The Book Gallery in Greenville, have identified a good nich