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Brownsville To Host Minority Biz Expo

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Dave Dunwoody
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WUWF Public Media
Brian Wyer

Area firms to get tips on dealing with government, private sector.

Already facing unique challenges before the pandemic, business owners of color are being slammed even more these days with the addition of COVID-19. That and other issues will be discussed at a minority business expo set for this weekend in Brownsville.

”We’ve been having discussions now for actually years about ways we can improve this; and we came up with the concept of having a minority expo – kind of a first one that the county has done in the recent time period,” said Brian Wyer, President and CEO of the Gulf Coast Minority Chamber of Commerce.

A turnout of around 200, maybe more, is expected. The venue — Brownsville Community Center — will be laid out with the pandemic still upon us.

“Ensuring that proper spacing’s in place with the seats, the vendor tables,” said Wyer. “With the food trucks outside for individual meals versus having a buffet-type style,” Wyer said. “Requirements are getting a lot more lenient now; you’ll see people more comfortable with getting together in groups. I think we’ll be very safe at this event as well.”

Wyer is one of the speakers for the expo. Others include businessman Quint Studer; Escambia County Commissioner Lumon May, and former county administrator Janice Gilley.

But wait – there’s more.

“We’ll have a procurement workshop; we’ll have time to do networking, we’ll have Kelly Massey from the Small Business Development Center at UWF,” said Wyer. “Then we’ll also have the certification processing place, and I will handle a Q&A session – answer some questions and provide some feedback from the audience.”

The speakers represent a balance of sorts between government and the private sector. Wyer says what they want most from government, is for it to show it cares about businesses of color.

“The ability to say, ‘We want to find ways to help you minority businesses work more closely’ with them,” said Wyer. “What I’d love to do, that the government can also do, is get the feedback. What problems minority businesses are having and what can we do to make those challenges become opportunities.”

One example Wyer points to, is a huge landscaping contract at Pensacola International Airport, which led to a number of businesses involved biting off more than they could chew.

“So the airport broke up the landscaping projects into smaller parcels; that’s what they heard from the minority contractors and vendors,” said Wyer. “So more businesses at a smaller size got work, as opposed to people trying to do too much work. But they got that from hearing from the people telling them that. The government needs to listen to what people are saying, and then find some solutions to make it better and easier for everyone.”

The Haas Business Center at the University of West Florida conducted a survey of businesses last year, in the middle of the pandemic. Nicole Gislasen at Haas says roughly 19% of respondents were minority-owned firms. The questions, she said, involved areas such as the economic environment, government relations and supply chains, and the workforce.

“We have respondents from almost every county in the state, except for two, and about 4,800 people responded,” said Gislasen. “That particular research study was quite telling. On each and every one of those measurements, minority businesses were far more concerned, than the group as a whole.”

The figures from the state of Florida, says Gislasen, align somewhat with the national survey by the Federal Reserve.

“Looking at the FED’s credit survey, they found that minority-owned businesses were among the firm’s most likely to experience financial and operational challenges stemming from the worldwide pandemic,” Gislasen said. “And this is concerning, because they play an important role in wealth-building and employment across the U.S. and right here in Northwest Florida.”

The Haas Center plans to make this a yearly study, concurrent with the annual FED survey.

“We will disseminate this throughout the state of Florida, and then we will examine the results and see if we can compare these results to that of the FED’s survey,” said Gislasen. “You can look for that next survey to roll out in early September, and we’ll report the results.”

The Minority Business Expo is Saturday, June 26, from 9:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m., at the Brownsville Community Center on DeSoto Street. The event free and open to all area businesses.