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Minority Business Forum focuses on helping companies build their dream

May 27, 2015

Published in the Frederick News-Post

By Ed Waters Jr. 

More than 60 people crowded into the Frederick County Chamber of Commerce meeting room Tuesday morning in what one speaker called a historic moment for minority businesses.

“This is a historic day,” said Sherman Coleman, business development specialist with the county’s economic development office. The theme of the event was “Working the Dream,” a point emphasized by Coleman to attendees.

“It is not just about living the dream, but working the dream. The goal is to build collaboration among minority business owners,” Coleman said. “You need to embrace Frederick County, and Frederick County needs to embrace you.”

Frederick County Executive Jan Gardner stayed for the 2½-hour program, which featured those with experience in doing business in Frederick and entrepreneurs just starting their businesses.

“There are a lot more people here than I anticipated,” Gardner said. The executive said education was key to providing a skilled workforce. Gardner emphasized her “jobs team” that works to outreach with minority and other businesses to help them succeed.

“We want Frederick County to be seen as pro-business and want to find out what you need to help you move forward,” Gardner said.

A success story

Randy Jones, owner of Cafe 611, told of his challenges from growing up in the tough South Side of Chicago, a career in the Army, and becoming a “housing provider” and restaurateur. He and his wife became real estate investors, fixing up homes and renting them.

“I rose to sergeant major in 19 years, and I’ve faced many challenges, including cancer, but nothing seemed as hard as selling hamburgers on North Market Street,” Jones said.

Jones thanked Gardner, saying he had not seen others in leadership give as much for minority businesses.

“I traveled a lot of places in the military, but I knew Frederick County was the place to provide houses for those who couldn’t always rent elsewhere and eventually to start a restaurant,” Jones said.

Jones spoke of some of the keys to success in business. Some of the audience members commented that Jones was a mentor to them, helping them through the obstacles of starting a business and keeping it going.

Jones said factors such as marketing, building capital, watching cash flow, finding the right location, planning ahead and finding and keeping a good team to work at the business are key to success. “Have a business plan. It is a road map to get there. A bank doesn’t want to hear what you say; they want it in writing.”

Connecting with the community is paramount, Jones said. “You cannot be an island and expect to succeed. Learn from others.” Letting people know who you are and getting to know the community will change the business and help it move forward, Jones said.

Jones has been involved with the chamber’s board, the culinary arts school at Frederick Community College and the Tourism Council of Frederick County.

“There is no substitute for experience,” Coleman said of Jones’ remarks. “Someone who has been down that road can help you on that road.”

Resources available

Latrice Lewis, business services consultant with Frederick County Workforce Services, and Carlos Turcios, agricultural business representative from the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, talked about the available resources, from training and job search to grants for businesses and help getting through the “red tape” of starting a business.

“I see many familiar faces, but more excited to see new faces,” Lewis said to the audience. “We can help. We can connect you to the right person. We are your tax dollars at work.”

Looking ahead

“My title today is weatherman,” Coleman said. “New, prevailing winds are carrying optimism and hope. There will be rain, but no tornadoes, no bad storms, we will make things happen.”

Elizabeth Cromwell, CEO of the chamber, said the organization is working on a five-year plan. “Frederick County will be very different in 2020. The business landscape will be very different. We need to look at the change in ethnic and age differences in 2020 and how that affects Frederick County. We want your input on that.”

Felix Soto, owner of American Junk Solutions, said in an interview he was glad to see the turnout Tuesday, but he noted that business owners, or those who want to start a business, face high taxes and regulations in Maryland.

“We are still losing businesses and jobs to Virginia,” Soto said.

“We are making a legacy for our kids. We need to be someone they will emulate, change lives, change futures. This is a historic moment. Get on the ride; if you don’t like it, you can get off,” Coleman said in comments after the program.