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Pa. challenged to boost small, diverse businesses

When it comes to small and diverse businesses, Pennsylvania has some work to do to keep pace with the rest of the country, according to statistics presented at a recent forum sponsored by the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry.

Though the commonwealth is just below the national average of 28.7 percent of women-owned businesses at 27 percent, its percentage of minority-owned businesses offers a different story.

To help foster growth opportunities for small, minority-owned businesses in the commonwealth, the chamber held a forum earlier this month at the Crowne Plaza Harrisburg-Hershey hotel highlighting the benefits of partnering with small and diverse businesses.

While the economy is on the rise, growth is not uniform across the board, said Gene Barr, president and CEO of the chamber.

“Business leaders all recognize that the small- and minority-owned business owners who make up the majority of employers here in Pennsylvania are the engines of our state’s economy. As we consider the benefits that these businesses bring to the table, our shared objective must be to find ways to continue fostering their growth,” said Barr.

ADDRESSING THE ISSUES

The town hall-style event included two panels addressing issues faced by small and diverse businesses and detailed characteristics that large companies are looking for in minority-owned business partners.

Panel participants included: state Sen. Vince Hughes (D-Philadelphia); state Rep. Jordan Harris (D-Philadelphia); Kerry L. Kirkland, deputy secretary for diversity, inclusion and small business opportunities in the Department of General Services; Sheri Collins, deputy secretary of technology and innovation in the Department of Community and Economic Development; Mia Mendoza, president and CEO of advertising agency Mendoza Group; and Ron Baldwin, AmeriHealth Caritas’ supplier management and diversity director.

The 11 million minority-owned businesses in the U.S. generate more than $1.8 trillion in annual revenue, said the event’s moderator, A. Bruce Crawley, president, CEO and principal owner of Philadelphia-based Millennium 3 Management Inc. Women-owned businesses employ 2.3 million workers and have a $3 trillion economic impact, and there are 30.2 million small businesses in the U.S. that account for 70 percent of all new jobs, Crawley said. 

Among the 10 most populated states, Pennsylvania (which is No. 5) has the second-lowest percentage of minority-owned businesses at 9.8 percent. The national average is 21.3 percent, said Crawley.

BETTER DATA NEEDED

Karl Singleton, president and CEO of The Pennsylvania Diversity Coalition, was among those who asked the panel what was being done and what kinds of challenges African-American-owned businesses are facing. Singleton’s inquiry prompted some discussion from the panel as veteran-, disabled- and women-owned businesses are broken out into separate categories and therefore have specific data, but minority-owned businesses are not separated by ethnicity. Other states, like Maryland, have been able to track challenges by separating minorities by ethnicity.

“Unfortunately, we can’t answer that question because our data is not measured that way,” said Harris, noting that he would like to see that change.

Crawley also expressed a need to re-evaluate earnings thresholds set by state government as part of the designation process for diverse businesses. The thresholds for diverse businesses restrain them and hold back their growth for fear of losing a designation they worked hard to achieve, he said.  

Working with state officials and local organizations, health insurer AmeriHealth Caritas has worked to propel small businesses and drive economic progress, said Steve Bohner, executive vice president of health markets at AmeriHealth. The organization partners with local businesses owned by minorities, women and disabled veterans to position them for success. Since 2013, AmeriHealth has doubled its investment in these businesses, said Bohner. The company is a provider of services and mentor programs that are designed to help small and diverse companies grow.

“We wanted to hold this event to draw more attention to these incredibly important issues and provide speakers that will help illustrate the need and what it takes to break down barriers,” he said.

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