Minority business group offers a helping hand to new firms
By BONNIE DeSIMONE
NEWS YPSILANT BUREAU
YPSILANTI - Founded in March, the Minority Business Owners Committee is looking to fill the needs of black merchants new to the business world with the best resource they have — one another.
The committee, affiliated with the Ypsilanti Area Chamber of Commerce, counts between 35 and 40 members, about 12 of whom are very active, according to chairman Ron Owens, owner of D’Mons Records on Ecorse Road.
“Our main goal right now is to educate,” he said. “We’re trying to enhance our knowledge of how to sell ourselves."
The group, which meets twice monthly, is designed as a vehicle for present and future black business owners to get together and share their expertise on the ins and outs of running a small business.
A soon-to-be published Minority Business Owners Committee directory will reflect the diversity of the group's membership, listing businesses from hair salons to auto body shops to exterminating companies.
A common problem afflicting many black business owners, Owens said, is not being tuned into traditional business grapevines. The committee is trying to promote awareness of self-help seminars and programs by mailing information to members.
Like the 35-year-old Owens himself, most committee members have gone into business for themselves fairly recently -- an average of two or three years ago.
Nate Griffin, a Georgia native and Vietnam veteran, tried several different jobs after 10 years in the military. At 33, he is now an independent contractor who sells incentive programs and gifts to companies, and has been handling publicity for the Minority Business Owners Committee.
"The majority of black-owned businesses fail because of lack of sales, because of not knowing bow to reach the market,” Griffin said. “Regardless of what product you have, it’s being sold by someone down the street. A lot of our members have never done market research. I believe there’s business for everyone out there, but it takes some stick-to-itiveness.”
Eventually, the group is aiming to form a Minority Enterprise Small Business Investment Corporation to serve as a loan pool. But Owens and Griffin stress that that goal is still a long way off. Banks require a minimum of $500,000 to start such an investment group, 10 percent of which must come from the local group.
The Ypsilanti group is beginning to build a financial reserve, through the $15 “participation fee” paid by members, and by means of fund-raising events like dances and banquets. A raffle, with prizes including a color television, a 10-speed bicycle and a Walkman, will be held at the Black Arts Festival next weekend, and a dinner/ball is scheduled for November.
In the interim, however, the group will concentrate on keeping local entrepreneurs in touch with each other and the many opportunities to improve themselves.
“We’re not fly-by-night, and we’re not a social group,” Griffin said. “We’re getting right down to work."
The committee's next membership meeting will be at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 18 in the conference room at the Ypsilanti Area Chamber of Commerce, 11 N. Adams St.
Nate Griffin (left), Ron Owens: Their committee offers human resources to start-up minority firms.
NEWS PHOTO • CECIL LOCKARD