Minority businesses seek attention

September 12, 1995|By Shanon D. Murray | Shanon D. Murray,Sun Staff Writer

TC Owners of minority businesses in Howard County hope today's Equal Business Opportunity Expo at the Turf Valley Hotel & Country Club in Ellicott City will bring them more attention, opportunities and a fuller appreciation of their combined strength.

The second annual gathering highlights businesses owned by people of color, women and persons with disabilities.

Howard County's record in fostering minority businesses is relatively strong. While county minority business owners say they still fight prejudice at times, they tend to stress it's a national -- rather than particularly local -- problem.

However, many of them say that no one in Howard County has yet come up with a full listing of all minority businesses -- a step that's needed in order to assess their representation and for efficient networking.

"It's important to know we have minority business owners who contribute to the economic health of the county. That's the message that's not out," said Patrice H. Cheatham, business development specialist for the county Economic Development Authority.

"We're trying to get people to identify themselves so we can get input from them about any barriers they are encountering and we need to know about. Don't make us guess," she said.

In 1979, the county became the first in the state to create a program to monitor the share of local government contracts that minority businesses receive. Since then, the status of minority-owned businesses -- large corporations, home-based ventures and small upstart firms -- has improved, business leaders say.

The county has put forth a "good, solid effort" to support minority business, said Earl H. Saunders, of the Equal Business Opportunity (EBO) Committee, a group within the Economic Development Authority. Part of the committee's mission is to attract and support businesses owned by minorities in the county.

"We need programs to make the playing field level," Mr. Saunders said. "We're not trying to put anybody out front, but we want to make sure everyone has equal access to the Howard County market."

One thing that could improve that access is a complete directory of minority-owned businesses in the county.

The county's last minority business directory, published in 1993, listed 270 businesses, said Cecil E. Bray, deputy chief administrative officer for the county. But that number is far from complete, he said.

He delayed publishing the first directory for almost two years because he didn't think there were enough names. Then, he said, "I published it, and people called up wanting to know why they weren't in there and the directory grew."

A second edition of the directory -- to be published at the end of this year -- is essential because "we would like minority businesses to know each other and do business with each other," Mr. Bray said.

One obstacle to identifying all Howard minority businesses is that some aren't willing to label themselves, said Malynda H. Madzel, owner of the Columbia-based Custom Telemarketing Services for eight years and last year's president of the county's Chamber of Commerce.

"It's just not important to them," Ms. Madzel. "There's nothing wrong with that. As long as I provide the service my customers want at a cost they want, they could care less about who I am."

But today's expo -- sponsored by the county government and the Economic Development Authority, a quasi-government agency -- is aimed at showcasing businesses owned by minorities.

Carole L. Pickett, publisher of the Columbia Business Monthly newspaper since October, said people only have to look beyond the white men leading the county business community to see the many businesses owned by people of color, women and the disabled.

A county native who lived and worked in Vermont for 24 years before returning to the area, Ms. Picket said the business community's acceptance of her has been surprising.

"It has been extraordinarily easy for me to step in as publisher and not have anyone say, 'What? A woman?' " she said. "I was initially concerned about that. I grew up in the '50s when this was an all-man's world, but this isn't true anymore."

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