African American entrepreneurs were encouraged to embrace growing business opportunities during the start of the 16th Annual A.G. Gaston Conference at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex on Tuesday morning.
A panel of business leaders shared with attendees a variety of opportunities. Bob Dickerson, executive director of the Birmingham Business Resource Center and host of the conference, said Birmingham has plenty of opportunities available.
“There are a lot of opportunities that are happening in our city, created by The World Games, expansion of the airport, transit – we’re about to build a stadium, and that, in addition to all of the regular stuff that goes on, says that there are tremendous opportunities for small, minority and diverse businesses,” Dickerson said. “We just wanted to put that out there and try to do what we can as the A.G. Gaston Company to help people do more business in the city of Birmingham.”
Dickerson said the Birmingham region is about 30 percent black or brown, but black and brown companies and entrepreneurs only generate about 1 percent of the total spend.
“We have to change that,” Dickerson said. “We need to make sure we understand it and our stakeholders, major corporations, big procurers have to understand that it’s in everybody’s best interests that we grow African American businesses.”
Glenda Thomas, Supplier Diversity manager at Alabama Power, said investing in the services of suppliers helps more than the business.
“For every million dollars that a corporation invests and pays you for your services, that creates 14 jobs,” Thomas said. “We’re changing the narrative about supplier diversity, economic inclusion, where we’re making an impact in our communities.”
David Fleming, president and CEO of REV Birmingham, said small businesses have a tremendous opportunity to thrive.
“In the last decade, we have seen a lot of change in our city,” Fleming said. “Our city center went from having 5,000 people living in it to over 13,000 people and growing. That’s opportunity. Those people need services. They need businesses to serve them. I believe there’s a lot of great days ahead of us in Birmingham and we’re happy to be a part of it with all of these great friends up here to build our city.”
Marcus Lundy, senior vice president and Supplier Diversity manager for Regions Bank, said small businesses can become suppliers to larger businesses, but only with assistance.
“There are three legs to the stool in what we do with supplier diversity: access to opportunities, access to capital, and training and development,” Lundy said. “That’s why we’re here, to share those nuggets with you.”
Melodi Morrissette, Community Relations executive for the East region of BBVA, said educating small business owners is important.
“Our small business curriculum has five modules in there and we’re looking for opportunities to come to you and share one of those modules, such as developing a business plan or how businesses obtain credit,” Morrissette said. “Access to capital has been named one of the biggest needs for small business owners.”
Fred McCallum, interim president and CEO of the Birmingham Business Alliance, said BhamBizHub was created to help small businesses and minority-owned businesses connect with people who need their services.
“The goal of the BhamBizHub is to create a place where we can connect small businesses, minority-owned businesses to resource providers,” McCallum said. “If you’ve got services you can provide to those businesses, we would be interested in talking to you.”
Ronald Mathieu, president and CEO of the Birmingham Airport Authority, said his organization is one of those resource providers that needs a robust supply chain.
“We exist to be an engine for this community,” Mathieu said. “The more successful we are, the more money we are ultimately able to put into this community, and the better and healthier the community is.”
Irvin Henderson, president of Henderson and Company, said his company is in Birmingham on purpose.
“We chose to come here because Birmingham is the next hot thing,” Henderson said. “Not here by mistake. Here on purpose.”
The entire panel discussion can be viewed in the video below.