Surviving the World of MWBEs
A forum on ways for small, minority and women-owned businesses to survive and grow in the current economic downturn ended with a call for an emergency White House summit on small business. Convened in June under the banner “Bridging Troubled Economic Waters: Strategies for Survival and Growth,” by the National Minority Business Council Inc. and the New York District Office of the U.S. Small Business Administration, the forum at the Jacob K. Javits Federal Building in New York City brought together about 100 businessowners and economic and financial experts.
“We recognize that the current administration is in its last months, but there are still steps it can take now to address the severe challenges faced by the small-business community. It must act quickly,” said John F. Robinson, the NMBC’s president and CEO. “The Dow Jones Industrial Average has fallen hundreds of points, fuel prices are at a record high and most small businesses fear they may not make it through these times.” Moreover, with private-sector procurement opportunities shrinking, the economic needs of small businesses, which collectively account for more than 90 percent of the nation’s jobs, cannot wait until a new administration is put in place on Jan. 20, Robinson said.
The last White House summit on small business took place in 1996, during the Clinton administration, Robinson noted. He urged presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain to adopt strong platforms that address small, minority and women business needs. “We cannot stay in this state of affairs indefinitely. We either go forward or we go backward. We are not going to sit by idly and watch all the gains made by the small, minority and women business community go out the window,” he said.
Adding to the grim economic landscape for small business, Michael Pappas, SBA’s regional administrator in New York, pointed to the likelihood of increased taxes and fees at state level. “There is uncertainty of state budgets, concerns of fuel costs and the effect that will have on your cash flow. Who knows what the future holds for state budgets and taxes,” he said. He echoed Robinson’s expression of urgency and challenged summit participants to “act now” to shore up their businesses and not necessarily wait for what may not occur.”
Billed as a small-business economic summit in its own right, the daylong forum was the first joint venture between the NMBC and the SBA since the two organizations signed a Strategic Alliance Memorandum in March. The NMBC plans to publish a detailed report on the summit that will include an executive summary of the summit findings; broad assessments of the economic landscape and critical insights into the lending environment; businessowners’ descriptions of actual survival-threatening experiences they faced and the strategies they employed to overcome these challenges; best practices for business growth in good economic times and bad; public- and private-sector areas of opportunity for small businesses; recommended actions for policymakers to ensure the continued viability of the small-business sector; and a list of agencies and other key small-business resources, including loan and grant agencies and programs.
Panelist Chad Moutray, chief economist at the SBA’s Office of Advocacy, Washington, emphasized the importance of entrepreneurship to the economy. “As a policy matter, politicians interested in small businesses are both Republican and Democrat. Everyone is for the entrepreneur. And more policymakers are looking toward small business and innovation as a long-term economic engine for their communities,” Moutray said. Interest-rate cuts over the last year and the new economic stimulus package’s provisions for increased expensing of capital goods are important advantages for small businesses, he added.
Panelist Patrick J. MacKrell, president and CEO of New York Business Development Corp., an Albany, N.Y., provider of innovative loans to small businesses in the state, noted that access to capital is an even more significant challenge for small businesses today, as large financial institutions adopt a “safety stand-down [because] they don’t know what’s going to happen with small business.” He advised businessowners to develop partnerships with local agencies that can facilitate access to loans and grants. “Make maximum use of agencies that provide advice, like the Service Corps of Retired Executives. Know the SBA and community loan funds. Look for lenders that have a community nexus that says ‘jobs are important to me’ and that are willing to take a risk [for creation of jobs],” MacKrell said. “Develop these partnerships wisely and tell them the truth about your business early so they can take you to lenders.”
Five successful entrepreneurs from various industry and service sectors gave first-person accounts of business challenges and strategies they adopted that proved to be recession-proof. They were Shirley Basso, president, Genett Group Inc., a facilities-management firm; Walter J. Edwards, founder and CEO, Full Spectrum of New York L.L.C., a leading developer of mixed-use and mixed-income Green buildings in emerging urban markets; Eileen Guzzo, president of Donnelly & Moore Inc., an information-technology staffing firm; Peter Koo, president, Starside Drugs, a retail pharmacy; and Gregory L. Reid, Esq., co-founder and managing partner, Reid, Rodriguez & Rouse L.L.P., a law firm serving small businesses in employee issues. Among several survival strategies and best practices, these panelists discussed:
• Diversification of the industries from which customers are drawn;
• Partnerships with your local community;
• Public/private partnerships;
• Partnerships with other small businesses that offer a complementary product or service;
• Giving better customer service when times are hard;
• Taking your business public;
• Expanding into international markets;
• Sticking to what you do best;
• Taking calculated risks versus reckless risks;
• Spiritual, mental and physical preparation;
• “Look around! You have more resources than you think you have –
universities and colleges, family and friends. Control your own destiny; use consultants; brand yourself. Find out what you can do best and stick to that in hard times,” Edwards told