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Virginia Beach business expo closes the gap

Jordan Crawford | 11/14/2013, 9:56 a.m.

To trade business cards, dismiss cookie-cutter outlooks on a successful life, and zero in on proven moneymaking strategies, female and minority business owners in Hampton Roads flocked to the free Minority Business Council’s Conference and Expo, which will be held at the Virginia Beach Convention Center on Nov. 7 from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.

There are a plethora of reasons why organizers chose Floyd E. Wilson Jr. as the keynote speaker for the 15th annual “Removing the Barriers – Closing the Gap” Minority Business Conference and Expo.

In his native state of Maryland, many people know Wilson was the first African American to win a city council seat in Prince George’s County in the early 1960s. He served six years in the position. He currently serves on several boards including Prince George’s Community College, and Bowie State University.

Wilson was also a biology and chemistry teacher during his stint as a city councilman.

He is the executive director of the county’s Minority Business Opportunities Commission and is also involved in the MGM casino project which Prince George’s voters approved last November bumping the number of planned casinos in the state from five to six.

But the accolades are coming decades after Wilson opened his own small business. Before Wilson recently became involved in the $925 million MGM casino project which is expected to produce millions in tax revenues, he opened three daycare centers that served 300 children starting in the early 1960s. And he helped launch the area’s first black-owned bank.

“Bottom line, the issue I plan to address is how to grow and expand a minority business,” said Wilson in a telephone interview. A father and a husband, Wilson also found time to launch a Christian Business Institute that still meets monthly at his church, First Baptist of Glenarden in Prince George’s County.

“I plan to discuss my experiences and how we did it back in Prince George’s County when the environment was not always receptive to minority and women-owned businesses,” Wilson said. “I plan to urge business owners to utilize their full potential. It is there. You just have to tap into it.”

Once hindered by a lack of capital, lack of access to government or private contracts, as well as other issues, minority businesses are navigating through new terrain, according to a report titled The New Agenda for Minority Business.

But the landscape changed in the 1980s. Supplier diversity programs allowed more black business owners to acquire government contracts. Revenues rose annually by 10 percent. And small black businesses have created 23 percent more jobs, a growth rate that is higher than the norm.

But the gap remains because minority businesses are still disproportionately represented in low-growth and no-growth areas, the report noted. “They tend to rely on personal debt and family financing over business loans, equity, and other tools that are commonly accepted in the capital markets. As a result, minority businesses often lack the size, scale, and capabilities of their majority counterparts.”

In Virginia Beach, minority business owners learned how to navigate through the maze. Although attendance wavered for the past five years, organizers took a look at what was driving numbers down at the free annual event.