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Minority firms say program opens doors

  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/07/08/17/24/n1dgO.Em.138.jpeg|251
    TODD SUMLIN - tsumlin@charlotteobserver.com
    Charlotte City Council member Vi Lyles tours the Retreat at Renaissance in west Charlotte on Tuesday. This was the first tour by the Charlotte Minority Economic Diversity Initiative to highlight several minority-owned companies that have benefited from the program.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/07/08/17/24/irzlE.Em.138.jpeg|169
    TODD SUMLIN - tsumlin@charlotteobserver.com
    Community leaders tour the Renaissance community at the former Boulevard Homes site in west Charlotte on Tuesday. One of the contractors for the Renaissance development is R.J. Leeper Construction, which has benefited from the Charlotte Minority Economic Development Initiative.

Minority business owners said Tuesday it is sometimes tough to win contracts from large companies they’ve never worked with before – but they credit a Charlotte program for opening doors.

This month marks three years since the launch of the Charlotte Minority Economic Development Initiative, a project involving the Charlotte Chamber and the Carolinas-Virginia Minority Supplier Development Council. It aims to help minority-owned businesses be more successful, such as by winning contracts with large companies that do business in the Charlotte metropolitan area.

On Tuesday, program participants, the media and others took a bus tour of some of the Charlotte businesses that have been helped by the program.

Companies featured on the tour credited the initiative with boosting their contracts through meetings with decision-makers of large corporations. Last month, one such event was held with officials from Mooresville-based home improvement retailer Lowe’s Inc.

“One of the struggles for minority businesses is understanding how to navigate corporate America,” Priscilla Wallace, vice president of the initiative, said during the tour.

According to a news release, the initiative has generated more than $53 million in contracting opportunities, helping create 487 full-time jobs in the Charlotte region. Wallace said about 20 companies currently participate in the program.

To participate, companies must meet certain requirements, including becoming certified as a minority-owned business enterprise through the Carolinas-Virginia Minority Supplier Development Council, Wallace said. The council seeks to foster business relationships between certified minority-owned businesses and other companies.

Participating businesses must pay upfront costs, including costs to be certified by the council and to join the Charlotte Chamber.

Tyrone Harmon, vice president of general contractor R.J. Leeper Construction, said the investment was worth it. He said the initiative helped the roughly 20-year-old company meet decision-makers for major corporations, including Carolinas HealthCare System, Novant Health and Wells Fargo. The company has won contracts from all three, he said.

Julio Colmenares, CEO of CGR Creative, a marketing and advertising agency, said the initiative has also helped his 11-year-old company win contracts, including from Minority Business Entrepreneur magazine. He said the program gives businesses the ability to pitch their products and services to large corporations.

“It’s very tough for big corporations to trust other vendors … they have not done business with in the past,” Colmenares said.

“CMEDI closes that gap.”

Roberts: 704-358-5248; Twitter: @DeonERoberts
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