The Conway Area Chamber of Commerce hosted the second annual Minority Enterprise Development Awards Gala Thursday evening to celebrate the success of the minority business community.
Conway Area of Chamber President Brad Lacy said he wants the chamber to represent the community they serve.
“In our organization we will be deliberate in what our board looks like. We will be deliberate in what our staff looks like,” he said. “It will take us time to get there, but we truly want to be representative of this community.”
Lacy said there is one thing that really makes him mad, and it’s when people talk about the community, and they characterize it as a suburb.
“And even further than that, is when they say we’re a white suburb because some people like to say that too,” he said. “We’re not.”
Lacy said as a town with three colleges, Conway is diverse and becoming more diverse with each passing year.
“We welcome people from all over the world into this place, who are speaking different languages, representing people groups we may not be familiar with, but as a university community, we better embrace diversity because that’s really who we are,” he said.
Drawing attention to events like the MED Awards Gala can bring awareness to the diversity of the community.
“We’re going to continue to invest in events like this to draw attention to the great diversity that exists in this city, so we can start to dispel that myth of the white suburb because folks, that’s not us,” Lacy said.
Keynote speaker Darrin Williams, CEO of Southern Bancorp, Inc., said Conway and America as a whole are becoming more diverse.
Hispanics and African Americans, two of the largest minority populations in the US, are expected to continue to grow at rates in which by 2042 the US will be a majority-minority country. Texas, New Mexico and California are currently categorized as majority-minority states.
Between 2000-2012, the Hispanic population grew by 55 percent. The African American population grew by 16 percent. Compared to a 7.6 percent growth in the white population and a 12.2 percent growth in the U.S. population as a whole, according to Williams.
During this same period, the Hispanic population in Arkansas grew by 258 percent, Williams said.
“America is rapidly moving toward a multicultural economy,” he said.
African American buying power is expected to reach $1.1 trillion. Hispanic buying power has exceeded $1 trillion, and is expected to reach $1.5 trillion within the next five years.
“If African Americans were a country that would make us the sixteenth largest country in the world,” Williams said.
African American households making $75,000 or more have grown by 64 percent, Williams said, and Hispanic households making $50,000 or more are expected to grow at a percentage larger than any other households.
If the law of supply and demand is true, as the population of minorities increases, the need for minority businesses will also increase.
“These demographic realities are not only good for minority entrepreneurs, they’re not only good for minority businesses, they’re good for business,” Williams said.
Charlotte Green, Lifelong Learners Inc. founder and MED committee member, said building relationships with businesses is not something that has a start and an end, it is a process.
“Attached to the businesses are real people,” she said. “Behind that business, behind that name, there is a person, and we’re here to build a relationship with the people.”
It is the MED committee’s goal to understand the voice of every minority business in the community. In order to do this, the committee has established Site Visits where committee members will go to each business and listen to what business owners have to say.
“We want to listen to your voice and we know the voice is going to be authentic because we are building a relationship,” she said.
Along with the Site Visits, the Speakers Bureau will also be put into practice which will give businesses a forum in which to express concerns within the minority business community.
“We’ll bring you in, listen to what you have to say, and then address the issues that you have, so when you walk away from the Speakers Bureau you’re empowered to go back and make your business even stronger,” Green said.
The Access to Capitol Award, presented to the individual, organization or business that has demonstrated outstanding leadership in the financial community by providing working or investment capitol to minority business, was awarded to Brent Salter, vice president of Salter Properties.
The person who nominated Salter for this award said, Salter Properties has grown tremendously in the past several years with projects that benefit the city of Conway. Working with Brent and the Salter team is always a pleasure as they work to get the job done, and always choose the best company to work with. They have been mindful of and chosen to work with minority owned businesses.
The Advocate for Opportunity Award, presented to the individual, organization or business that has demonstrated significant accomplishments in educating and advocating for minority business enterprise, was awarded to Kristy Carter, director for the Division of Outreach and Community Engagement at the University of Central Arkansas.
The nomination form for Carter said, she exhibits the highest professional skills in helping people who desire to start, own or expand a small business entity. The UCA program is unique and provides students with the skills and knowledge needed to become successful in today’s economic climate.
The Outstanding Minority Business of the Year Award, presented to the business whose practices have had a significant impact on the city of Conway, was awarded to The City of Hope Outreach. Founder Phillip D. Fletcher accepted the award.
The nomination form for this business said, “The City of Hope Outreach is an organization dedicated to serving others with a Christian mindset. They work to develop and establish healthy relationships between different economic and social classes. Since their inception, City of Hope has worked to better the lives of those less fortunate and educate the community they serve.”
The Outstanding Young Minority Professional Award, presented to an individual between the ages of 21-39 who has committed himself or herself to business and community service, went to Johnny Hò, owner of Umami Sushi Lounge and Grill Fusion.
The person who nominated Hò said he has taken Conway by storm with his strong team and amazing food. Even as the owner of a restaurant, he never minds to step behind the counter and serve a customer with his employees. He shows great management and leadership, and is a welcomed addition to Conway.
The Lifetime Achievement Award, presented to the individual who has played an integral role in the creative, technical or professional progress of minority business development over the course of his or her life, was awarded to Thelma Moton, founder and executive director of Choosing to Excel.
Ronnie Williams, vice president of student service at UCA and the 2012 recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award, said Moton’s life story is compelling and she completely embodies what this award is all about.
In 1991, with a handful of volunteers, Moton started what would become the state’s largest mentoring program serving more than 6,500 young men and women today.
“God consistently overwhelms me,” she said. “I stand here receiving this award, but I stand here because I have so many people supporting me.”
(Staff writer Michelle Corbet can be reached by email at email@example.com or by phone at 505-1215. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, log on to www.thecabin.net. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)