Pat Brown, Director, Minority and Women Business Division, AEDC
Small business – from retail to restaurants, construction and hospitality – is the engine that runs our state’s economy. These entrepreneurs are dreamers and hard workers with an idea for a product or service, and they come from all walks of life. At the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, our focus is to help create business and jobs in the state, and we do this in part by supporting startups.
Starting a new business brings unique challenges on a daily basis. Unfortunately, minority and women business owners may have additional hurdles to overcome such as access to capital, professional development obstacles and access to the right kinds of advisers and mentors. Only about 25 percent of small businesses in Arkansas are owned by women, while the number of minority-owned businesses is even lower at around 14.7 percent.
The sole purpose of the Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprise (MWOBE) within the Arkansas Economic Development Commission (AEDC) is to help entrepreneurs and grow small businesses owned by minorities, women and service-disabled veterans. Division experts act as facilitators for professional services and counsel for new and existing companies. That ranges from helping write a business plan to move products to market, to management and leadership training and more.
The division promotes the growth and sustainability within that sector by providing business owners with real-world technical and professional assistance, certification, procurement, networking, capital and contracting opportunities while utilizing our partners in state and federal government, higher education, lending institutions and the private sector.
The first and most important thing I encourage minority business owners to do is become certified through the MWOBE Certification program. The State of Arkansas has a law in place requiring 15 percent of the total amount expended in state-funded and state-directed public construction programs and the purchase of goods and services for the state each fiscal year is paid to certified minority businesses.
The certification program is a review process that ensures the business is actually owned, controlled and operated by minority applicants that meet certain eligibility criteria. The certification process may seem intimidating at first, but we have a bi-monthly Certification Assistance Workshop to help you navigate the process. During the workshop, you’ll learn about eligibility requirements and go through a review of the application process. There are no costs associated, and it only takes about 30 to 45 days to go through the entire process.
Once granted, the certification lasts for two years. Certified business owners can enjoy training events, workshops, networking opportunities and educational opportunities. In addition, you’ll learn how to connect with contracting opportunities through the State of Arkansas as well as a few other benefits of being certified.
I also suggest businesses become part of our Minority and Women Business Directory. The online directory is used as a guide for identifying minority and women-owned businesses. Currently, the directory lists about 875 minority and women businesses of which over 300 are certified companies, and it continues to grow.
Access to capital and other financial matters can be stressful for all business owners, but especially minority and women business owners. We can help with that, too. The Minority Business Loan Mobilization Guaranty Program helps Arkansas state-certified minority businesses with loan guarantees from $10,000 up to $100,000. To qualify, the business must be a state-certified minority business enterprise, in business for at least two years. Since the program’s inception more than six years ago, we’ve helped to create or retain at least 300 jobs all the while maintaining a zero default rate. More than 54 loans worth $3.9 million are outstanding, with $2.5 million guaranteed by the state. A total of 16 lenders participate in the program.
Our signature event is our annual Matchmaking Event. The one-day event helps approximately 300 small business owners by matching them with county, state and federal buyers for contract opportunities. The event schedules owners and buyers for a number of 12-minute one-on-one appointments, and features panel discussions. Last year’s event featured Julia Chears-Young, owner and principal research consultant of Precise Data Consulting LLC; Philip Burton, owner of Integrity Office Solutions and Julia Wrigley, owner and president of Wrigley Construction Company, who talked plainly about their challenges and opportunities.
This year’s event will be held Friday, Sept. 13, at the Metroplex in Little Rock, so keep your eyes open and ears tuned for more information in the weeks ahead. While the specific details are still in the works, this year’s event promises to be bigger and better than ever.
Arkansas is fortunate to have a governor who understands and cares about the unique needs of minority and women business owners. For more information on how the Arkansas Economic Development Commission can help your minority, service-disabled veteran or women-owned business, visit ArkansasEDC.com or call 501-682-2559.
Patricia Brown has been the director of the Minority and Women Business Division at Arkansas Economic Development Commission (AEDC) since July 2007. She is responsible for policy and oversight of the Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprise and coordinates program activities with more than 100 state and federal agencies, colleges and universities, and lending institutions while working with Arkansas’ business community to expand opportunities for minority-owned firms.