Minority Entrepreneurs Celebrate Small Businesses

It's 7:30 in the morning and having already eaten breakfast an hour earlier, I'm staring at a plate of bacon and eggs in the grand ballroom of the Omni Shoreham in Woodley Park.

I've been chatting with my table mates who are in town from California to network about women-owned minority businesses and federal contracts.

We all snap to attention when we hear a booming voice yell: "Is the grits good?"

It's Ronald Langston, the national director of the Commerce Department's Minority Business Development Agency since 2001.

"Amen," replies someone in the crowd.

Earth, Wind and Fire's "September" blasts through the conference hall and everyone smiles, pushes back their chairs, jumps up and begins clapping and dancing.

It's time to get today's party started. It's the third and final day of the Minority Enterprise Development conference, one of the largest federally sponsored events targeting minorities. This year's agenda focuses on "the power of strategic alliances in the global economy."

When the music fades, Langston introduces Small Business Administration Deputy Director Jovita Carranza, who is filling in for scheduled speaker Acting Administrator Sandy Baruah. Langston praises Carranza, notes that they've spent some time together on the road visiting disaster-stricken places like Iowa and calls the relationship between his agency and the Small Business Administration "the best in years."

Before announcing three small business award winners, Carranza talks of her rise from the bottom rungs at UPS and says: "The United States is a country of entrepreneurs built by risk takers. Entrepreneurship is in our DNA."

She adds that employment at Fortune 500 firms has declined while small businesses grow and today generate 60 to 80 percent of the nation's new jobs.

The minority small business Person of the Year was presented to George Burciaga, a Latino entrepreneur and president of smarTECHS.net. Burciaga, who Carranza introduces as both George and Jorge, sold chewing gum on the streets of Chicago and then started a one-man IT firm from his apartment. It's now an eight-employee company with $2.6 million in revenues and $8.8 million in contracts for 2008.

An entrepreneur from Buffalo, N.Y., Joan Yang, was recognized as the 8(a) Graduate of the Year. Yang is the president of Rand & Jones Enterprises, a general construction firm and building materials supplier founded in 1985. In her acceptance speech, she said her company would not exist without the SBA's 8(a) special loan program.

Jeanette Brown, director for the Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization at the Environmental Protection Agency received the Administrator's Leadership Award for her "tireless efforts and unwavering commitment," according to the SBA.

Langston wraps things up noting that he is of African-American descent while Carranza is of Hispanic descent.
"There will not be a divide between black and brown," he says. "I'm so proud. It has to start at the top."

By Sharon McLoone |  September 5, 2008; 5:20 PM ET
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