Local Arizona Firms Benefit From Federally Funded Chamber Program
By Don Harris
Thanks in no small part to the efforts of the Arizona Minority Business Enterprise Center, three Arizona firms are among the many that have benefited from a federally funded program.
Operated by the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the center is opening doors to market opportunities and much-needed capital. A nonprofit organization, the center is funded by the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) of the U.S. Department of Commerce. The MBDA is the only federal agency created specifically to foster the establishment and growth of minority-owned businesses in America.
Now in its second three-year grant under the operation of the Hispanic Chamber, the center focuses on minority businesses with $500,000 or more in annual revenues that generate significant employment and long-term economic growth.
“The center assists minority business enterprises in the areas of financing, planning, management, marketing and obtaining government procurement opportunities,” says Harry Garewal, president and CEO of the chamber.
The center also honors companies and entities that have made payments exceeding $1 million to minority businesses through contracts awarded. Most recent honorees were Sundt Corporation, Hunt Construction Group, Salt River Project, Turner Construction Company and the city of Phoenix Aviation Department.
The emphasis is on minority, not specifically Hispanic, businesses. To be eligible, businesses must meet certain minority standards and be members of certain groups that include, but are not limited to, African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Native Americans, Aleuts, Asian Pacific Americans, Asian Indians, Eskimos and Hasidic Jews.
Ray Gonzales, president and CEO of RBG Construction; Enamul Hoque, president and owner of Hoque & Associates; and Stuart Smith, owner of Specialized Maintenance Services, tell how they and their businesses were aided by the Arizona Minority Business Enterprise Center.
Gonzales’ RBG Construction business, based in Glendale and founded in 1996, currently has about 100 employees. However, depending on conditions, payroll ranges from 20 to 125 employees. The firm has two divisions: general contracting and its original unit — concrete. Portions of projects landed through the center’s guidance, according to Gonzales, include the University of Phoenix Stadium, concourse work at Sky Harbor International Airport, a major car rental center adjacent to the airport, the Phoenix Convention Center, Arizona State University projects and a Border Patrol station in Douglas.
“The center has been a great vehicle for our company,” Gonzales says. “Its services helped us get minority certification to bid on government contracts, and helped us with banking needs.”
There’s an added bonus — educational opportunities. The center lined up grants through the Small Business Administration to send Gonzales to the Dartmouth College Tuck School of Business in Hanover, N.H. The grant covers rooms and meals, plus a one-week course. Participants pay their own travel expenses.
“They send minorities to brush up on finance, business planning, project management, marketing and business strategy,” Gonzales says. “It’s a crash course. It’s not a party.”
Hoque is founder of Hoque & Associates, a consulting engineering firm specializing in geotechnical exploration, civil engineering, construction materials testing, environmental assessment and solid waste engineering. Launched in 1997 as little more than a one-man operation, the company now has 22 employees. Hoque credits the center for his company’s growth.
“It helped us then and it’s still helping us,” Hoque says. “We’re a small company and the center helped us find sources of work. We could not afford to have a marketing person full time. You’re able to network with others, find your own niche. They can’t give you work, but they can find it for you. They point you in the right direction.”
Through the center’s efforts, Hoque for 10 years has had a contract with the Cochise County Solid Waste Management Division. Other jobs include work on a federal prison near Tucson, and a Sprint building in South Phoenix.
His firm also does environmental work, such as restoring “a blight site” landfill where Tempe Marketplace was built.
“I was the main guy to help investors to make money off the landfill,” Hoque says. “With blight sites, if you can beautify and restore it, that’s a catalyst for future improvements. As the energy crisis goes on, building inside the town rather on the periphery makes sense.”
Smith, an African American, started Specialized Maintenance Services — a commercial janitorial maintenance firm — in 1990, and since then has added other services, including heating and air conditioning, electrical and plumbing. He’s up to 60 employees.
“The center helped in terms of putting together a financial business plan, access to capital, and a requirement by the Small Business Administration to get certified as an ‘8a’ minority firm, which makes us eligible for contracts with the federal government,” Smith says. “We could not have gotten this work without certification, and the center was helpful and instrumental. They also helped with a marketing strategy and held motivational meetings for our employees.”Arizona Business magazine September 2008
In the last four years, the center has been able to facilitate $145 million in loans and procurement assistance, leading to the creation of more than 600 new jobs, Garewal says.
The first three-year grant under the chamber’s operation ended in 2006. A second grant of $365,000-a-year for three years began in 2007. Grants are reissued annually by the federal government based on how well the center performs, and the center matches the grants on a percentage basis.
“We know a majority of small businesses that are flourishing are minority-owned businesses,” Garewal says. “For the most part, minorities are pretty entrepreneurial. They always figure out ways to make additional money. They have that entrepreneurial spirit. When you think about it, the American dream is to be entrepreneurial, to provide for their families and to be successful. Isn’t that why we go into business?”