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Minority- and women-owned businesses growing in state

Mississippi ranks 47th in the number of women-owned businesses per capita in the country. But things are improving both on the national and state level when it comes to growth of both women- and minority-owned businesses.

Nationwide women and minorities registered double digit increases in the number of Small Business Administration (SBA) loans in 2005 compared to the previous fiscal year. Loans to African Americans were up 41% and loans to women were up 39% over FY (fiscal year) 2004.

“There were also significant increases in the number of SBA-backed loans to Mississippi minority- and women-owned businesses in FY05,” said Mississippi SBA district director Janita R. Stewart. “The increase not only showed our commitment to continued financial assistance to small businesses, but also validated our approach to make that assistance more readily available to them. We are pleased that both our outreach and streamlining efforts have proven highly effective as reflected in the substantial increase in assistance to women and minority businesses through the SBA Community Express Loan program.”

Angela Curry, assistant director of economic development for Leflore and Carroll counties, said Mississippi Development Authority (MDA) programs have been vital to minority- and women-owned firms.

“I do see an increase in minority- and women-owned businesses, and I think the support we get from the Mississippi Development Authority (MDA) has helped a lot,” Curry said. “They have programs in place designed specifically for women- and minority- owned businesses including special incentive minority certification programs that entitle minority owned businesses to set asides on federal contracts.”

The word is getting out about the support available for women and minorities. In Leflore and Carroll counties, there have been a number of small business workshops partnering with agencies such as MDA and the planning and development district. Also, a grand opening was recently held for a new business incubator.

“That is going to do a lot for our women and minority businesses of Leflore County and surrounding Delta counties, as well,” Curry said. “Many people, women and minorities, would like to go into business. They have wonderful ideas and a great business plan. They just need the support of an incubator type facility to help them with things such as marketing and management, and other overhead that comes with owning a small business.”

One of the first minority businesses recruited by the local economic development agency, the Greenwood-Leflore Industrial Board, was Noramac Call Center Services.

“We are very proud of that company,” Curry said. “They have been here about a year now.”

The call center represents a new trend for more diversification in minority-owned businesses in the state.

“The types of small and minority-owned businesses have diversified in the past 10 years as opposed to the traditional minority-owned business like funeral homes and barber shops,” said Larry D. Williams, vice president of Industrial Foundation of Washington County. “We have seen a lot of diversification particularly in the health service industry, but also in technology industries with regards to computers and services. That is not to say the traditional types of businesses aren’t still necessary. It is just there has been a significant amount of diversification and opportunities for African Americans to develop along other lines as well.”

Most counties in the Mississippi Delta are majority African-American. Williams said that suggests that the percentage of minority-owned businesses should be higher. While there are still major challenges, he said the opportunities for minority-owned business look promising.

“Certainly, some of the traditional barriers to small and minority business development still exists, such as access to capital, management training and skills development,” Williams said. “However, with the existence of organizations like DRMBA (Delta Regional Minority Business Association) to try to focus on some of those barriers and provide skills training for aspiring entrepreneurs, we are making progress.”

Many of the “rules” for owning a minority business are the same as any business. Williams said it is important to practice good standard business practices in order to be competitive. That includes good record keeping, paying taxes on time, marketing, doing a business plan and accessing capital.

Williams advocates African-American business associations throughout the state focused towards continuing to improve management skills. Another big focus is to encourage African-American businesses to do business with each other.

“The ultimate test of success for African-American businesses, or any business, is whether they are forging partnerships and seeking opportunities for joint ventures,” Williams said. “That is graduate level for entrepreneurism. Once you make progress, look for other business opportunities that may include partnerships with someone else that may make it a strong venture opportunity. You can only do that by networking, partnering and associating with others of like mind.

“You have to keep pace with global competition with continuous education. It is a constant process. This isn’t exclusive to African-American or minority businesses, but businesses in general all the way across the board. The National Black Chamber of Commerce has entered the State of Mississippi. The chamber is starting up in Jackson, which is a positive sign. The National Black Chamber of Commerce is a national think tank type of organization that has a large membership base and chapters all over the world, which gives us new perspective in regards to entrepreneurism.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at bgillette@bellsouth.net.

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