50 new designees get state’s women- and minority-owned business certification

Marlon Blackwell of Marlon Blackwell Architects in Fayetteville poses at his office in this June 30, 2016 file photo. Marlon Blackwell Architects is among the minority- and women-owned business enterprises certified by the Arkansas Economic Development Commission in 2023. (NWA Democrat-Gazette file photo)
Marlon Blackwell of Marlon Blackwell Architects in Fayetteville poses at his office in this June 30, 2016 file photo. Marlon Blackwell Architects is among the minority- and women-owned business enterprises certified by the Arkansas Economic Development Commission in 2023. (NWA Democrat-Gazette file photo)

The Arkansas Economic Development Commission certified 50 minority- and women-owned business enterprises last year, opening them up to networking and business-procurement opportunities.

The certification lasts two years once granted and indicates that a business is 51% or more owned and operated by someone who is Black, Hispanic, Native American, Asian American, a Pacific Islander, a service-disabled veteran and/or a woman.

"Congratulations to the Arkansas businesses that achieved this certification in 2023," Esperanza Massana-Crane, director of the AEDC's Small Business and Entrepreneurship Development Division, said in a news release. "The MWBE certification provides a wide range of benefits for businesses that will set them apart in a competitive landscape, and we hope that this will open the door for future opportunities for these companies."

Certified businesses are listed on a commission online directory. The commission notifies pertinent businesses about things like mentorship programs or the $20 million in Southern small business funding Goldman Sachs announced last October in Little Rock, and also alerts them to requests for proposal from vendors, cities, and planning and development districts.

"A lot of companies, whenever they're searching contractors, they like to go to the directory and find a minority- and women-owned business, especially if they're certified," Massana-Crane said in an interview. "You see that a lot with construction companies, because they have to do their due diligence, so they prefer to use certified businesses."

Clarissa Page, chief executive officer of the Shekinah Services tax preparation, financial services and marketing company in Monticello, said she's happy to get the certification in order to get exposure in different markets.

"I was also excited that I met the requirements that indicated that I maintained business operations properly. Since being a business owner, it has always been my goal to do it right," she said via email. "Finally, as a minority-owned business, this certification exposes me to a diversified audience. In my opinion, minority-owned businesses are not always the first choice of service for consumers. This certification helps bring the awareness and trust necessary to gain more clients and increase profitability."

Unlike the federal government, certain other states and some local governments, Arkansas does not require a certain amount of expenditures to be contracted with minority- and women-owned business enterprises, though 15% is the goal.

The state's 2021 fiscal year report of minority business expenditures found that 15% of more than $377.6 million in expenditures was around $56.6 million, though less than $39.2 million actually went to minority- and women-owned business enterprises.

Massana-Crane cautioned that the data was drawn from both the Arkansas Economic Development Commission and the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration, potentially affecting accuracy. "Some agencies are exempt from reporting it, but the majority of them do," she said, adding that subcontractors are "not necessarily tracked."

"The state, where they can, yes, they try," Massana-Crane said. "We have a matchmaking event every year where we invite buyers from the state to purchase from [minority- and women-owned business enterprises]."

The U.S. Small Business Association runs the federal government's minority- and women-owned business enterprises program, and Massana-Crane said there is some reciprocity between the Small Business Association and the Arkansas Economic Development Commission.

A wide variety of businesses are among the most-recently certified minority- and women-owned business enterprises. Aleshire Electric contractor in Mena, Harness Safety Systems in Harrison, Marlon Blackwell Architects in Fayetteville and Trio's restaurant in Little Rock were among the 17 business added.

The 33 new businesses include Casa Americana Realty and Certified Pies in Little Rock, Full of Life Personal Care Services in Ashdown, Kingdom Connect Consulting Services in Marion and Master Floor Cleaning Incorporated in Pine Bluff.

"This certification was one of pride, for me, being able to obtain it for the business. In my opinion, it was an acknowledgment of the work that we put into investing in the longevity and perpetuity of our mission and vision," Amber N. Booth-McCoy, who runs The Diversity Booth professional training and coaching consulting agency in Little Rock, said via email.

"I appreciated the knowledge regarding the possible access to new business because of the certification." It was also when she learned how many Blacks or women who own businesses don't obtain the certification for various reasons, she said, and "I wanted us to be different."

Massana-Crane said the economic development commission's ultimate goal with its certifications is to support small business: "The majority of net new jobs are made by firms that are five years or younger, which means they are all these micro-business and small businesses. It's promoting this foundational economic drive in the state.

She said a focus on minority- and women-owned businesses also extends to rural businesses and was part of the reason why Arkansas Economic Development Commission consolidated the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Development Division she directs, tying the growth of small businesses to the growth of Arkansas' gross domestic product.

Upcoming Events