The Philadelphia Tribune: Forum seeks to help minority and small businesses

Government officials and small business owners gathered Friday to attend the annual Diverse & Minority Business Forum hosted by state Sen. Sharif Street.

The event, co-hosted by U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans and Deputy Secretary for Diversity, Inclusion & Small Business Opportunities for the Pennsylvania Department of General Services Kerry L. Kirkland, was held to help provide minority entrepreneurs and small business owners with the opportunity to share resources and exchange information with their peers and officials from a variety of organizations.

According to a news release, the purpose of the event is “to be intentional and deliberate in increasing diverse and minority business access to MBE/WBE/DBE Certifications, Purchasing Opportunities with the private and public sector including contracting and bid processes with the City of Philadelphia and State of Pennsylvania.”

“(It’s) for those folks to potentially expand the pool of people with whom they are doing business, and for people who come from sectors of the economy that are often left out of doing business with major institutional players to have an opportunity to hear from them. Hear what kind of services (are offered) and then market their services to one another. We facilitate a discussion that hopefully yields greater interaction between those groups,” said Street.

Evans discussed the importance of events such as the forum in his opening remarks, focusing on the way that participants at various levels of government can aid minority small business owners by connecting and sharing opportunities at these kind of in-person, ground-level events.

“(With) bringing this network of public and private vendors together, with Kerry (Kirkland) at the state level and myself at the federal level, (and) Sen. Street at the state level, it is this kind of interaction that (continues) to ensure that African Americans have the opportunity. And we need not to take it lightly, but we need to keep this continuing process going so that people understand how you take advantage of the opportunities that are there.”

Teresa Lundy, the principal and founder of TML Communications, was one of the speakers at the event and said she feels that events such as the Diverse & Minority Business forum are a great way for small business owners to gather the resources and connections necessary to move their businesses forward.

“I’m always looking to figure out the best ways that people can connect to resources, especially the small business community. I think that is very important as we figure out how (to) move the city of Philadelphia forward, but also having a real firm understanding that it does take a partnership with corporate government and civic engagement,” she said. “So I’m hoping that people that are here today are really grasping the resources that are here, the talks, but also (are) taking back something that they can take to either evolve their business or figure out the best way that they can challenge themselves to do better in business.”

Some of the organizations that participated in the forum include BSI Construction, Temple University, Drexel University, Amtrak, the Philadelphia International Airport, the City of Philadelphia’s Office of Economic Opportunity, SEPTA, the Philadelphia Housing Authority, TML Communications, the African American Chamber of Commerce of PA, NJ and DE; and The Enterprise Center, among others.

Ultimately, Kirkland said he expects that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is “looking to spend a billion dollars with small and diverse businesses this year” in large part due to the connections made at events such as the forum.

“What we’re trying to do is try to get more diverse firms engaged in contracting with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania so that we can increase the spending that we’re currently having with that group of individuals right now. But that’s the whole purpose, is to expand our database, try to get as many companies of color involved in our database to see whether or not we can translate that into a greater spend on those types of firms. … The bottom line is I just think that it’s a wonderful time for small, diverse businesses to do business here in Pennsylvania. I think we have the infrastructure to support small, diverse firms.”