Minority Business Accelerator: Corporations spent over $1B with local minority-owned firms in 2013

'It really is about making regional change happen'

CINCINNATI –Greater Cincinnati corporations and nonprofits topped $1 billion in spending with local minority-owned companies in 2013.

In fact, 36 companies affiliated with the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber’s Minority Business Accelerator spent $1.04 billion with minority-owned firms last year.

It’s the most money those companies called “goal setters” have spent with local minority-owned firms since the program known as the MBA launched 11 years ago.

“The work of the MBA is rooted in the region and the community. It is the minority companies who are coming to the table and the goal setters that are making the decision that they’re going to have a diverse supply base,” said Crystal German, vice president of the MBA and economic inclusion for the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber.


“While we celebrate this as a milestone for us, it really is about making regional change happen.”

The MBA announced its results Wednesday afternoon at its 2014 Minority Business Accelerator’s Annual Stakeholder Meeting at The Phoenix in downtown Cincinnati.

It also announced:

• The MBA’s 34 “portfolio firms” had average annual revenue of $32 million in 2013, a 10 percent increase over the previous year. Portfolio firms are the local minority-owned companies that the MBA works with to help them grow.

• The program added four new portfolios firms and six new goal setters last year.

• The L. Ross Love GrowthBridge Fund has reached $1.8 million. The fund was started a year ago to help minority-owned businesses get the money they need to grow. It expects to make as many as three loans later this year.

The MBA was launched in 2003 as a response to the city’s 2001 riots. The program aims to grow sizeable minority-owned companies to increase economic opportunities for the region’s minority residents.

Portfolio companies must be African-American- or Hispanic-owned, must have annual revenue of $1 million or more and must have potential for growth.

Making Progress, But Challenges Remain

Although the region’s minority-owned firms have seen tremendous gains, German said those companies face some of the same challenges today that they did 11 years ago:

Access to capital. Building a company’s capacity in order to meet the needs of large, corporate customers takes money. And local minority-owned companies often still have trouble getting the capital they need to grow their businesses, German said. That’s why the MBA created the GrowthBridge Fund.

Perceptions of inferiority. “We still do fight the perception that minority businesses are less qualified and less capable,” German said. “Hopefully, people will see that our goal setters are able to find enough capable suppliers to put $1 billion back into the local economy.”

When the MBA started in 2003, the only goal setters were the city’s corporate titans that already spent tens of millions of dollars with minority-owned businesses across the country. The MBA’s role was to urge those corporations to make sure a significant portion of that spending was local.

Now the program’s goal setters also include local companies such as Al Neyer Inc., the Cincinnati Reds and law firm Dinsmore & Shohl in addition to nonprofits, such as arts funder ArtsWave.

“The growth in the goal setters and the growth in the diversity of the goal setters really speaks to how this has become a regional community campaign, and not just a focus on the corporate community’s conversation,” German said.

Opportunity For Growth In The Region

Miami University became a new goal setter last year to help connect with a larger network of local minority-owned businesses, said Bill Shawver, the university’s chief procurement officer.

“It just seemed like a perfect marriage,” he said. “It seemed like another place where we could learn from other folks.”

Miami has been working to do business with minority vendors for the past 30 years, Shawver said. The university spent $2.8 million with minority-owned businesses from January through March alone, he said.

“We feel like it’s an opportunity to maintain commerce and growth in our region,” Shawver said, adding that the university is able to do business with minority-owned companies and still get competitive prices.

“When we learn about diverse vendors that align with what we’re trying to accomplish here from a responsible business perspective, we just think that’s a very good thing,” he said.

The United Way of Greater Cincinnati became a new goal setter in 2013, too, as a way to help the organization gauge its spending with minority suppliers, said Takiyah Cunningham, a diversity specialist in development and human resources for the United Way.

The organization just started its supplier diversity program in 2011, and last year was the first year the organization felt comfortable

setting a goal for spending, she said.

The United Way’s goal for 2013 was $350,000, but the organization ended up spending $543,000 with minority businesses last year, she said.

The effort aligns perfectly with United Way’s “bold goals,” Cunningham said, which focus on the educational attainment, income and health of the region’s residents.

The idea is that spending with minority-owned businesses helps those companies create jobs, which in turn helps the community as a whole.

“Ultimately, it is the right thing to do because we are then arming the people in the community with the tools they need to be successful,” Cunningham said.

For more stories by Lucy May, go to www.wcpo.com/may . Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.