Originally created 08/20/04

Group aids minorities in business



ATLANTA - More support is on the way for minority-owned businesses across the state, officials said this week during a regional conference to bring together entrepreneurs and advising experts.

Though the Minority Enterprise Development Week events drew sparse attendance from business owners from outside the metro Atlanta area, program participants said they are working on plans to better reach out to other Georgia cities.

"Our focus is education - anything we can do to help the company grow," said Donna Ennis, project director for the recently formed Georgia Minority Business Development Center.

The center, which received funding at the beginning of the year from the U.S. Department of Commerce's Minority Business Development Agency, held its official opening this week in Atlanta.

"We'll be traveling around the state, working with the cities to tap and target minority companies," Ms. Ennis said.

Operated through the Georgia Tech Economic Development Institute, the center is intended to help minority business owners get started or expand their operations by providing advice in areas such as working with lenders and improving information systems.

"I think it would be very worthwhile in Augusta," said Randy Hatcher, the president of Augusta-based MAU Inc., which won a Minority Supplier/Distributor of the Year award at the state conference this week. "I think there is a real need for someone to centrally coordinate the business efforts of minority business owners."

Mr. Hatcher, who has been with MAU since 1978, said much of his interaction with minority business groups is organized at the state and national level because there is a lack of local outlets.

"There's not really an entity to bring us together," he said.

The state's burgeoning Hispanic population outside Atlanta is why Sara Gonzalez has decided to direct attention beyond her home base.

Ms. Gonzalez, the president of the 20-year-old Georgia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said the group will begin establishing contacts in other cities and create liaisons where there are not already Hispanic business support systems.

She said she decided to expand the group's presence after seeing U.S. Census figures that showed a Latino community in all 159 of the state's counties.

Reach Vicky Eckenrode at (404) 589-8424 or vicky.eckenrode@morris.com.