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Ohio reaching out to minority-owned businesses; division chief in Akron

By Katie Byard
Beacon Journal business writer

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Ohio has never reached its goal — established in state law in 1980 — of awarding 15 percent of eligible contracts to minority-owned businesses.

More needs to be done, though the state’s performance is getting markedly better, Jacqueline Williams, chief of Ohio’s Minority Business Development Division, said Monday in Akron.

She noted that in fiscal 2013, minority-owned enterprises won roughly 10.1 percent of the goods and services contracts that Cabinet agencies awarded. That was up from 4.52 percent in fiscal 2012.

Williams said Gov. John Kasich has made reaching the goal a priority.

“It’s come up pretty significantly.... [He] expects that in his tenure as state governor we are going to get to 15 percent.”

Williams was visiting the area Monday morning in conjunction with Kasich giving his State of the State address in Medina in the evening. As part of her schedule, she toured minority-owned ClarkTel Tele-Communications, an installer and servicer of business telephone systems. It is headquartered on Copley Road in West Akron.

Williams said the state has worked hard to streamline the application process that businesses go through to be a Minority Business Enterprise, or MBE.

“It used to take 90 days; now it’s a two-week process,” Williams said, noting the process can be shortened even further in the event a state agency has an urgent need for a product or service.

The state recognizes that some smaller minority-owned businesses might not have the resources — including personnel — to do the required work of larger contracts, Williams said. So, she said, the state is urging that agencies “unbundle” the contracts, creating smaller pieces of work.

Michael A. Davis Sr. and Tobin Buckner, who work with minority-owned businesses in their positions at the Akron Urban League, were on hand Monday.

They agreed with Williams and ClarkTel President Terence Clark that more outreach is needed to let companies know about the set-aside, as well as what products and services the state needs.

The three men also agreed, in a discussion with Williams, that access to loans is a key issue for minority businesses. Alternative funding sources, those that don’t have traditional lending requirements, are needed, Davis said.

Buckner, with the Urban League, said businesses often need working capital — for short periods — so they can bid on, and then fulfill, contracts. Business leaders, he said, say, “Man, if you could just cover these 90 days, I could do [the job.]”

Clark, of ClarkTel, said regular meetings with bank officials have paid off, making them more comfortable with loaning working capital when he needs it.

Kasich, Williams noted, voted for the minority set-asides years ago when he was a state senator.

The Minority Business Division is part of the state’s Development Services Agency.

The set-aside program is administered by the Department of Administrative Services and is designed to give a boost to businesses that are at least 51 percent owned or controlled by African-Americans, Hispanics, Asian-Americans or American Indians. The state also has programs to help businesses owned by those who are “socially disadvantaged.”

For information on the state’s programs, visit http://development.ohio.gov and click on the “Minority” tab.

For information on the Minority Business Development Center at the Akron Urban League, call Michael Davis Sr. at 234-542-4144 or email mdavis@akronurbanleague.org or visit www.akronurbanleague.org/overview.

For information on the Partnership for the Minority Business Accelerator at the Akron Urban League, call Tobin Buckner at 234-542-4145 or email tbuckner@akronurbanleague.org.

Katie Byard can be reached at 330-996-3781 or kbyard@thebeaconjournal.com.


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