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Frederick County Minority Business Vision Program Makes Strides in First Year

February 28, 2016

A mix of current and future business owners, elected officials and community leaders gathered last week to celebrate the first year of a new county initiative that aims to connect and engage minority-owned businesses.

The Frederick County Minority Business Vision program launched in May 2015 as a means to help the minority business community succeed through mentoring, networking and support services, according to Sherman Coleman, the head of the program, which falls under the county’s Office of Economic Development.

Although the program is not yet a year old, Coleman said the department decided to host a dinner recognizing minority business owners and the program’s success in February to coincide with Black History Month.

Over the past year, the county’s Minority Business Vision program has held multiple networking events and reached out to various business owners in an effort to connect established and new minority businesses for mentoring purposes as well as to provide direction and support to prospective business owners, Coleman said.

About 75 program participants and supporters came together Thursday night for the recognition dinner at Café 611, mingling and dining for two hours. The event was designed to bring together members of the community as well as to honor minority-owned businesses, said Helen Propheter, director of the Office of Economic Development.

“The reason that we started this dinner was because we felt it was important to thank minority businesses for having a dream, taking the chance of starting a business and then having the wisdom to start that business in Frederick County. … [The dinner] is to thank you all for what you do,” Propheter said.

Keynote speaker Jimmy Rhee, the special secretary of the Governor’s Office of Minority Affairs, discussed the importance of small, minority-owned businesses and commended Frederick County’s efforts to expand this sector.

Coleman said the idea and force for the program stemmed from County Executive Jan Gardner’s efforts to connect county employees and leaders with the minority business community. This prompted Coleman to reach out and target business owners in the African-American, Hispanic and Asian communities, he said.

“Those three entities felt they didn’t have a voice,” Coleman said, noting business owners in these communities expressed disenchantment with and lack of support from the county.

Randy Jones, the owner of Café 611, said he has felt a responsibility to help and advise current and prospective business owners, particularly those who identify as minorities. For Jones, learning to manage a restaurant came mostly through trial and error, he said, a method that cost him money and time over the years.

The creation of the Frederick County Minority Business Vision has “enhanced” Jones’ calling, he said, noting he hopes the new entity will “make the path a little smoother” for all business owners, including minorities.

Coleman told the audience Thursday night the next step for the program is to compile a minority business directory, expand the program’s outreach and build attendance at its monthly networking gatherings.

“We’re committed to the community, and the community seems to be committed to us,” he said.

‘They just need to get out there and start doing it’

The heads of prospective, startup and established minority-owned businesses voiced support for the program, but all agreed more needs to be done.

Carlos Turcios, an agricultural programs specialist with the state, stopped by the event to congratulate Coleman on the program’s success. Turcios is a member of the program’s core committee and helped to launch the Minority Business Vision program because of his own passion.

Although a state employee at the moment, Turcios said he hopes to someday start his own business in Frederick as an economist, advising business owners and residents on how to better manage their finances. He plans to cater to the Hispanic community, a growing segment of the local population.

Through the minority business vision program, Turcios said he wants to “help in getting Frederick back on the map a little more.”

Li Zhou, the owner of a Chinese immersion childcare program, attended Thursday’s event with friends from the Asian American Center of Frederick. Zhou moved to the U.S. from China, and now runs an immersion program in Frederick County that teaches children, including her own, to become bilingual.

“We have to be multicultural; we have to be multilingual,” she said, referring to the growing diversity in Frederick, including the recent boom in Asian immigrants and Asian-owned businesses.

Between 2007 and 2012, the number of reported Asian-owned businesses in Frederick County rose nearly 70 percent. Chinese-owned businesses in the county increased 300 percent over the five-year timeframe, from 80 to 322, according to recent data from a business-owner survey conducted by the Census Bureau.

“I thought to myself, ‘That number is amazing,’” Zhou said of the uptick of Asian-owned businesses, noting this means more Asian residents, and therefore, more services needed to help that population.

For Jamaal Rashad, who works as an independent associate of LegalShield, which provides legal services, the slow growth of black-owned businesses in Frederick County was surprising and sad.

“Black people need to come together and open more businesses,” he said, referring to the U.S. Census Bureau statistic that black-owned businesses in the county grew 5.6 percent between 2007 and 2012.

As an independent associate of LegalShield, Rashad said he considers himself to be a business owner. He encouraged prospective business owners to stop waiting and make the jump.

“It’s just a mindset,” he said. “They just need to get out there and start doing it.”