Arkansas Economic Development Commission

AEDC Expands Minority Business Program to Include Women-Owned Businesses

October 11, 2017

Patricia Brown, Director of the AEDC Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprise DivisionGovernor Asa Hutchinson joined the Arkansas Economic Development Commission (AEDC) to announce the expansion of the Minority Business Enterprise Program to now include women-owned businesses in Arkansas and new diversity spending targets. 

Karen Castle, certification manager of the AEDC’s Division of Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprise, said the expansion will include disabled-veteran business owners, minority business owners and women-owned businesses.

Act 1080 amended the program, now known as the Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) and Women-Owned Business Enterprise (WBE), to include women. The Act, passed by the Arkansas General Assembly this year, set a goal of spending 5 percent of the state’s discretionary procurement budgets with women-owned businesses. This change provides M/WBEs with a better understanding of state procurement and contracting processes, heightens awareness of state contracting opportunities and expands the program to include service disabled veterans, additional minority groups and women-owned businesses. 

Led by Director Patricia Brown, the Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprise division promotes the growth and sustainability of minority and women-owned business enterprises by providing them with real-world technical and professional assistance, certification, procurement, networking, capital and contracting opportunities while utilizing AEDC’s partners in state and federal government, higher education, lending institutions and the private sector. 

To qualify, a business must be 51 percent owned by a minority or woman, or a group of minorities or women, to apply for a state contract. The business must also be legal to operate in the United States, and Arkansas, as well as owned by a permanent resident of Arkansas and earn a revenue no more than $10 million. The state’s online small business directory of minority-owned firms now lists some 275 certified companies, and Brown’s team is busy certifying women-owned businesses.

“Arkansas’s Minority and Women-Owned businesses have a unique opportunity to increase their market share in their chosen industry while enhancing our thriving economy,” said Governor Asa Hutchinson. “By expanding the program, we are actively supporting our current minority and veteran-owned businesses while potentially creating a new generation of women-owned entrepreneurs with widened access to state business.”                                                                                                             

Revenue at women-owned business in Arkansas almost doubled between 1997 and 2015, according to American Express OPEN 2016 State of Women-Owned Businesses report. During that time, the number of women-owned firms rose 73 percent, while employment from the firms was down 7 percent, according to the data. 

Another important goal for the Minority Business Enterprise is to diversify the state’s business base and create more jobs. To accomplish this, the state established the Arkansas Minority Business Advisory Council, appointing volunteer businesspeople to offer guidance to the state and businesses themselves.

An additional job creator is the Minority Business Loan Mobilization Program, which guarantees 90 percent of loans up to $100,000 for qualified minority- and women-owned businesses. “We’ve never had a default in more than five years, and we’ve created or retained at least 170 jobs,” Brown said. “In the minority community, creating even two or three jobs makes a huge difference.” More than 30 loans worth $2.6 million are outstanding, with $1.8 million guaranteed by the state. Fifteen lenders are enrolled in the program.

For more information on the Division of Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprise or how to certify your small business, visit our website here.