Ten successful local minority business owners (MBEs) recently flew to Nashville, courtesy of Southwest Airlines, to explore new business opportunities.

This was the inaugural trip of the Capital Region Minority Supplier Development Council’s (CRMSDC) first Get on the Plane Business Tour, a program designed to help make minority businesses more profitable through introductions to corporate decision makers and MBEs in other parts of the country.

“Relationships and access to decision makers are key to business success.” said Sharon Pinder, president and CEO of CRMSDC, who created the concept and led the trip. “The more these businesses grow, the greater their economic contribution to our region, in terms of both revenue and job creation.”

According to data from the Census Bureau’s Survey of Business Owners, the number of minority businesses increased by about 38% nationally, while the number of non-minority businesses decreased almost 5%, between 2007–12; however, minority-owned businesses’ average gross receipts are about 65% less than non-minority businesses.

In 2017, 61% of CRMSDC’s almost 400 MBEs had revenue of more than $1 million, up 5% from 2016. Additionally, 12% have more than 100 employees, and 39% have between 11–100 employees. These suppliers are drivers of economic development.

Meeting the group in Nashville were MBEs from the TriState Minority Supplier Development Council. TSMSDC President and CEO Cheri Henderson ensured that the participating TSMSDC MBEs’ core capabilities complemented those of the CRMSDC group. Often, corporations bundle many goods and services into one contract and a single MBE may not be able to meet all the requirements; meeting other MBEs expands the opportunity for joint ventures.

CRMSDC and TSMSDC are two of 23 regional affiliates of the National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC), the only nationally-recognized MBE certifying authority.

This is the first time two NMSDC affiliates have joined together for an event, Henderson said. “This collaborative effort increased networking and procurement opportunities. It was an ideal chance to meet, greet and explore mutual procurement and networking opportunities for increased business development.”

The group’s first meeting was with Rob Wigington, president and CEO of the Metropolitan Nashville Aviation Authority (MNAA). The MNAA is seeking minority contractors for its $1.2 billion renovation and expansion project. Wigington invited the group to attend the MNAA Procurement Fair, which was scheduled for the first week in October. Several members of the group intend to return to Nashville for the event in hopes of being chosen to participate in the project.
Tony Hill, managing partner of Edwards & Hill Office Furniture, of Columbia, was among the local minority business owners that made the trip. “The Get on the Plane Business Tour is an amazing idea,” he said. “It takes an incredible amount of time, money and resources to pursue business in another state. In Nashville, CRMSDC had already identified opportunities that matched our core competencies. [It was an example of] amazing efficiency that simply can’t be accomplished by any company on [its] own.”