Supplier diversity experts offer straight talk for minority businesses

ENC 2014 Supplier Diversity Straight Talk panelists

Minority businesses must remain vigilant on the policy front, hone their business skills as well as their craft, and support each other if they want to grow profitably, said four minority business advocates.

Leaders of three minority trade associations and the chief diversity executive for the State of Massachusetts offered “straight talk” for minority businesses about barriers to access and how to overcome them and grow profitable businesses.

Panelists were Ronald Marlow, assistant secretary for access and opportunity for the State of Massachusetts; Shelby Scales, executive director of the Airport Minority Advisory Council; Gloria Shealey, president of the National Association of Minority Contractors and president and CEO of The Danielle Co., a Durham, N.C. construction firm, and Joset B. Wright-Lacy, president of the National Minority Supplier Development Council.

Key policy moves on the national level threaten to curb opportunities for minority participation in aviation construction projects, Scales said. The Obama Administration’s proposed budget would sharply reduce funding for the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Airport Improvement Budget, which mandates minority participation, while raising passenger facility charges (PFC) that support construction controlled by local airport authorities, which may not require minority participation.

Without such requirements, experience has shown that minority participation will drop sharply, Scales said. She urged businesses to alert their Congressional leaders of the significant negative impact such a move would have on their businesses, job creation and their local economies and ask for minority participation requirements to be added to PFC-funded construction work, as well.

Once doors are open, minority businesses must be prepared to seize them, panelists said.

“Many people are good at their craft, but not necessarily good at running their business,” said Marlow. They must be, he said. Marlow’s office has launched a three-year program to help minority businesses develop their business skills so they can grow and prosper.

Panelists encouraged minority businesses to explore partnerships and joint ventures to compete for projects larger than any of their businesses could compete for on their own. For instance, minority firms in Atlanta teamed and won 51 percent of the concessions at the Atlanta International Airport, Scales said. Similarly, a partnership of minority firms recently won the first minority-owned concession at Raleigh-Durham International Airport’s new Terminal 1.

Wright-Lacy said minority businesses need to do for each other what they ask major corporations and government to do – increase their spending with minority vendors.

“We keep a list of companies in my home that we do business with,” Wright-Lacy said. “In my household, we don’t support businesses that don’t support us.”