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Supporting Minority and Women-Owned Businesses in Arkansas

 August 10, 2021

In this episode of the Arkansas Inc. Podcast, host Clark Cogbill sits down with Esperanza Massana-Crane and Jon Harrison to discuss minority and women-owned businesses in Arkansas, leadership training, and Minority Enterprise Development Week.

Massana-Crane is the director of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission's Minority and Women-Owned Business Division, and Harrison is the founder and president of VIP2.


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Speaker 1 (00:04):

Welcome to the Arkansas Inc. Podcast, where we discuss the latest topics and trends in economic development with subject matter experts and influencers from across the nation and around the world.

Clark Cogbill (00:18):

Welcome to the Arkansas Inc. Podcast. This is Clark Cogbill, Director of Marketing for the Arkansas Economic Development Commission. We are recording today's podcast, as we always do, from Lucky Dog Audio based in downtown Little Rock. The Arkansas Economic Development Commission's mission is to create economic opportunity by attracting higher paying jobs, expanding and diversifying our state and local economies, increasing incomes and investment, and generating positive growth throughout Arkansas. There are many ways the team at AEDC works to accomplish that mission. One important way is through the work of the Minority and Women-Owned Business Division. This team promotes the growth and sustainability of minority and women-owned business enterprises in Arkansas, with the ultimate goal of helping these businesses succeed and contribute to the economic growth in Arkansas. Today, I'm joined by Esperanza Massana-Crane, my coworker and director of the Minority and Women-Owned Business Division of AEDC. Esperanza, welcome to the Arkansas Inc. Podcast.

Esperanza Massana-Crane (01:24):

Thank you, Clark. I'm happy to be here. It is my honor to represent the minority and women-owned business community at AEDC. Such an important group that we serve, and I am just thrilled to be in this role and serving in this capacity.

Clark Cogbill (01:38):

Absolutely. Also calling in on today's podcast is Jon Harrison, who will be the keynote speaker at the Minority Enterprise Development Week Leadership Training on September 21st at Mosaic Templars in downtown Little Rock. Jon is the founder of VIP2, a leadership training and consulting organization based in Little Rock. Jon partners with organizations of all sizes to transform workplace environments and attitudes, inspiring lasting change that extends beyond the job into families and communities. Jon, thanks for joining us today.

Jon Harrison (02:14):

Thank you so much. It's an honor to be here. I'm anxious to be part of this training that's coming up as well.

Clark Cogbill (02:20):

All right. We're going to have a good discussion today. We're going to start with Esperanza. Esperanza, in your own words, give us just an overview of your division, the Minority and Women-Owned Business Division of AEDC.

Esperanza Massana-Crane (02:31):

Absolutely our division acts as a connector and a resource to minority and women-owned businesses all over the state. From an economic development standpoint, it is our goal to arm these businesses with the necessary resources so they can grow and expand and therefore help positively impact the economy of the state.

Clark Cogbill (02:52):

Great. Now, one of the things that your division offers is certification for minority and women-owned businesses. Can you talk about this certification?

Esperanza Massana-Crane (03:02):

Absolutely. Our certification is the vetting of a business. Basically saying that it is owned, operated, and managed daily by an ethnic minority person or a service disabled veteran or a female.

Clark Cogbill (03:18):

And so why do you encourage minority owned or women-owned businesses to go through this certification? What does that do for them?

Esperanza Massana-Crane (03:26):

There are several benefits to being certified. And even though you don't need to be certified to pursue a contract with the state, the certification is definitely an asset for businesses and it sets the business apart when the business is trying to do business with the state or the federal government. There are a number of benefits and I'll be happy to share some of them with you. One benefit that we are trying to promote and get the word out is that their state government purchases of up to $40,000 that can be made without competitive solicitation. And if you are a certified minority women-owned business, you can go after these types of contracts up to $40,000. You also have access to the loan mobilization program, which is technically currently on hold, but we're hoping to resume it pretty soon. You also get listed in an online directory, which I know we will talk about later and you get positioned in the directory as a certified business.

Esperanza Massana-Crane (04:29):

And then you also have access to a statewide network of support services and special trainings, workshops, classes, and especially the notification of bid opportunities. So, we try to push out special communication to certified businesses. We get literally every week bid notifications from different state agencies or from local governments. And so we push it out to a certified businesses so they can reach out to these opportunities and participate. Also, the certification is at no cost to the business. So, it's completely free and it's just something great for a business to have under their belt.

Clark Cogbill (05:10):

Absolutely. A lot of good reasons to get certified as a minority and women-owned business. It's free, as Esperanza said. Now just because we're the state and to help people know the difference. What is the difference between getting your business registered with the state of Arkansas and achieving this certification as a minority and women-owned business?

Esperanza Massana-Crane (05:30):

That is a great question, Clark, and I'm glad you're bringing that up, but basically registering your company with the office of state procurement as a vendor allows you to do business with the state of Arkansas. The certification on the other hand, basically indicates that your company has undergone a review process to show that in fact, it is 51% or more owned, controlled, and operated by either an African-American, Hispanic-American, American-Indian, Asian-American, service disabled veteran, or female. And I will encourage any minority or women-owned business that is listening to our podcast to visit the Office of State Procurement and register their business with them as well.

Clark Cogbill (06:17):

So, that's also a good thing to do to get your business registered with the state of Arkansas. So back to the certification, it sounds like it's kind of a no-brainer. What do you have to do? How hard or easy is it to become certified as a minority and women-owned business?

Esperanza Massana-Crane (06:33):

It is really not that hard. The process takes 30 to 45 business days on average. There is an application online that you can complete, and basically that's the first part of it. You can go to our minority women-owned business section under our website, and you will find the application. Or you can contact Karen Castle directly. She is our certification program manager, and she is excellent. She has been doing this for many years. And so she has walked several businesses through this process. Also, we have several workshops that we host throughout the year. We have actually one coming up August 26th in partnership with the Arkansas Procurement Technical Assistance Center, aka, PTAC. I know that's a long name, but we are partnering with them in providing a certification workshop on August 26th.

Esperanza Massana-Crane (07:27):

And for our listeners as well, PTAC is another great resource that you need to visit if you haven't visited yet. Check out their website. They work with many businesses in helping them get contracts, not only with the state, but also with the federal government. And they're constantly offering a number of workshops targeted to doing business with the state. But again, if you are... And also, if you're an organization that is interested in for us to come and talk about certification, we are more than happy to do that or set up a special training. We can set up trainings for groups as small as six people to larger groups to learn more about the certification program.

Clark Cogbill (08:08):

Fantastic. All right. You mentioned earlier the directory, let's talk about that. The Minority and Women-Owned Business Directory, what's that all about?

Esperanza Massana-Crane (08:16):

Yeah, that is a great question as well, because our online directory is really a powerful tool for minority and women-owned businesses. This online directory, there are state agencies, procurement officials, and members from the private sector that are constantly going to our online directory to look for specific minority and women-owned businesses. As of right now, we have about 12 to 1,300 businesses, and it's basically a searchable online list. And it's comprised of again, minority and women-owned businesses in the state, both certified or non-certified. It is very easy to be part of the directory there. Again, if you go to our page on the website, you can enter your information to be submitted to be in the online directory. And then, we review the information, approve it, and then it basically goes live to the directory. And the directory is pretty current. So, we're constantly updating it. And like I said, it is a very, very powerful tool for minority and women-owned businesses to be there as it gets searched numerous times. Like you said, that is one of the most searched sections on our website.

Clark Cogbill (09:30):

Yes, it is. I keep track of the most popular pages on the Arkansas Economic Development Commission website, which the URL is arkansasedc.com. And yes, week in and week out, the Minority and Women-Owned Business Directory is one of the most popular pages on our website. So, I think you pointed it out Esperanza, it's a valuable resource to search for a minority and women-owned business, but it's also hugely valuable to be a part of the directory. So, check it out at arkansasedc.com.

Esperanza Massana-Crane (10:05):

Absolutely. And one more thing on the directory, you will find businesses from all corners of the state, which I think is very important and chambers of commerce and different organizations are constantly looking at the directory. So again, if you're a minority women-owned business, please try to get your information to the directory. I am unaware of another similar database in the state. So, it's very powerful and it is divided by category, industry, contact information.

Clark Cogbill (10:32):


Esperanza Massana-Crane (10:32):

So great tool to have.

Clark Cogbill (10:34):

So, in summary, you get certified and be a part of the directory.

Esperanza Massana-Crane (10:39):

Yes. And one thing that I forgot to point out, and I apologize on the certification process, to get certified, you have to have been in business for at least two years.

Clark Cogbill (10:47):


Esperanza Massana-Crane (10:48):

So, just keep that in mind. However, if you haven't been in business for two years, don't let that be a discouragement. Still pursue certification, learn about it, come to a training because you will learn more about the steps that you need to take in order to be certified. And that is valuable. So, two years go by fast. So, just at least if anything, find out what the requisites are, the paperwork that you have to submit, and be a part of that.

Clark Cogbill (11:17):

Great advice. All right, coming up September 13th through 19th is Minority Enterprise Development Week. This is a nationally recognized week, also called (MED) Week for short. Esperanza, tell us about (MED) Week. What goes on at (MED) Week? And what is planned in Arkansas?

Esperanza Massana-Crane (11:36):

Absolutely. Yeah, there are a number of activities that are done nationwide to celebrate MED Week. What we are doing is we're putting together this leadership training for minority and women-owned businesses that week. It is a very exciting opportunity because we believe that leadership is key to drive businesses, to create a positive work culture and therefore have positive outcomes in terms of production, measurements, and whatnot. And so we're putting together this great leadership training by Jon Harrison, who is the founder of VIP2. And he is an expert in all things, leadership, especially him having been part of Caterpillar for so many years and have traveled the world as an executive dealing with so many different backgrounds, personalities, cultures, and what have you. So, it is a world-class training that is going to be accessible, free of cost to minority and women-owned businesses.

Clark Cogbill (12:41):

Great opportunity. All right, well, that's a great transition to our other guests on the Arkansas Podcast today, Jon Harrison. Before we talk about your leadership training, Jon, you have a very interesting professional background, and I wanted to ask you to tell us a little bit about your background.

Jon Harrison (12:58):

Sure, and Esperanza is so kind to say I'm an expert on all these things because what I do think you'll see in this training, and as I describe my background, it's all real world stuff. And so, I started out as a supervisor at Caterpillar, the heavy machinery company. I had a group of about 10 or 12 people in my first supervisory position, but like many people, I was thrown into that position with no leadership training, no expectations, good at what I was doing as an individual contributor. And now I was responsible for other human beings and really had no clue and started off in the United States, moved into different disciplines within Caterpillar, several locations around the United States, and then spent time in Australia, Japan, other parts of Asia, and then moved to Arkansas in 2009 and 10 to start the Caterpillar facility in North Little Rock.

Jon (13:58):

So, starting from kind of a frontline supervisor to an executive, again, managing large groups of people small, but as Esperanza mentioned, different cultures, different backgrounds, different education levels, and frankly had to learn along the way so to speak. And so as we get into the training here in a little bit, people will see that it's again very real-world. And the curriculum that I've written for leadership training that I use around the world is basically my diary as life of a leader. And I think people will see that pretty quickly that it's not overly academic or overly consultant like, but real world and very applicable to a leader, regardless of what industry or size of organization there is.

Clark Cogbill (14:44):

As Esperanza mentioned, Jon Harrison is the keynote speaker for the leadership training coming up in Little Rock during MED Week on September 21st in Little Rock at the Mosaic Templars. So, Jon, fascinating background. How did your corporate leadership experience prepare you for this next part of your career in training and consulting?

Jon Harrison (15:07):

Yeah, and I really had no plans to do this, so to speak. I had a calling, so to speak, to leave my executive life behind and help people of all walks of life in different ways. And there are different methods that my wife and I do that, but what I realized is that people spend 40, 50, 60 hours every week of their life at work, that the numbers will tell you that usually about two-thirds of people are disengaged at work. And I just have this feeling that a real-world message, again, the mistakes that I made as a leader, some of the things I did well, that I could maybe pull that together into a very user-friendly process to help leaders again in any capacity. Because again, if people are disengaged at work, now they're taking that home to their families. It affects marriages, it affects physical health, emotional health, the community. And I think we just need to look at leadership in a different way.

Clark Cogbill (16:10):

That sounds like an excellent training session. Let me ask you this with minority and women-owned businesses, they're often small business owners and these founders and owners are extremely busy doing all kinds of things just to keep their business running: managing their staff, serving their customers, dealing with all sorts of things. What would you say to a business owner, Jon, who may be wondering why should I take time out of my super tight schedule to attend this leadership training?

Jon Harrison (16:40):

That's an excellent question. A very common question. And I think the way I would answer that as this, of course, it takes time away from your day-to-day operations to attend something like this. And we can always find a reason why we shouldn't do that. However, I think we all know as human beings, there's an incredible amount of time wasted in organizations with human dysfunction, meetings that are a waste of time, whatever. So, what I would encourage people is to spend a half day, I think you'll walk away from this half day session with some things that will absolutely help you reduce some of that dysfunction and the frustrating things that happen in the workday. We do some three-day leadership sessions with clients. And one slide that I always show when they're sitting there at the beginning of their three days is three divided by 365 is 0.8.

Jon Harrison (17:42):

So in that case, they may be asking why on earth would I spend three days in a leadership program? Well, if you think about as 0.8% of your year, it sounds a little silly because I think if we dedicated that kind of time to make life better at work, more efficient, less dysfunction, et cetera, it's a no brainer. So, now think about just a half day, right? And I do think it's just normal human nature that we don't want to give up that time, but frankly there's never a time in our busy lives where we have four hours or three days in those examples where we have nothing to do. So, I think progressive organizations, progressive leaders know they have to invest time. It's no different than investing time and exercise or time with our children or other where there's always something else we could do, but I think this will be a valuable use of that half day.

Clark Cogbill (18:32):

Time is valuable and I like the way you put it: an investment of time. Just a half day. All right, Jon, one more question. Just give us a little sample here. What are some of the things that a business owner can expect to take away from the training and immediately begin to implement in their business?

Jon Harrison (18:50):

I think again, most of these business owners... My dad owned a small business. My brother owned a small plumbing business. I grew up around this. And they were very good at things technically. My dad was a home designer builder and my brother was the plumber, like I said. I've been around small business. Now, my VIP2 is my own small business. So, I think what they'll be able to take away is stepping back a little bit from the technical expertise that caused the business to begin in most cases, putting in some simple cultural pieces in terms of setting expectations for employees, behavioral expectations and performance expectations, putting that to a high standard so you're getting the results you want, but you're also getting the behaviors you want.

Jon Harrison (19:39):

We always say this in our sessions, great employees want to work with other great employees. And one of the common phrases you will hear business owners of any size say today, "We can't find any good people." Well, we're going to challenge that statement in this half day. And I think if that alone will be a reason for people to come to see how can they attract great people by really just adjusting some expectations in their business.

Clark Cogbill (20:04):

It sounds like an excellent training session. So again, Minority Enterprise Development Week Leadership Training will be on September 21st in Little Rock from 8:30 to 12 at Mosaic Templars. And it's free. It costs nothing. Esperanza, how do you register for the training?

Esperanza Massana-Crane (20:24):

Registering for the training is very easy. Just visit our page, arkansasedc.com/lead. You will find all the instructions to sign up for this free event and what a great opportunity, Clark. I mean, you just heard from Jon and I'm very excited because whether you have two employees on your roster or you have 50 or 75, however many you have, it is so important to determine what type of leader you're going to be and drive the culture for that business.

Clark Cogbill (20:56):

So, again, this leadership training hosted by the Arkansas Economic Development Commission coming up on September 21st to register visit arkansasedc.com/lead. And it's a free event. I also wanted to give Esperanza an opportunity to talk about an event coming up in the spring of 2022, the Minority and Women-Owned Business Matchmaking Event also hosted by the Arkansas Economic Development Commission. Esperanza, give us a preview of the Matchmaking Event.

Esperanza Massana-Crane (21:25):

Thank you for that question, Clark. I can't emphasize enough how important networking is for small businesses. Actually, how important networking is in general and the matchmaking event is exactly that. It's a networking event and it is our signature event for the Minority and Women-Owned Business Division. This event helps minority and women on business owners by matching them with county, state, and government buyers for contract opportunities. So, it is like a speed dating event in which the business owners are matched with these purchasing officials and they sit down, they have a opportunity to sit down for 15 minutes to talk about what their offerings are. And the goal of the event is for businesses number one, to network with this purchasing agents, with the objective, the ultimate objective of them getting a contract down the road. Sometimes they are potentially able to get a contract that same day, but a lot of times, as you know, it is cultivating those relationships and building those leads that will ultimately translate into having contracts.

Clark Cogbill (22:40):

I've seen the event in action and it's really fascinating. And it seems incredibly valuable to get all of these business owners together, just to share different experiences of leading a business, the challenges, the opportunities, what can they learn from one another? And there's a lot of great programming that happens. So, how can people stay tuned for more details about that event?

Esperanza Massana-Crane (23:03):

A really good way to do so is by following our Facebook page. If you look under Minority and Women-Owned Business, we have a Facebook page and we're constantly putting notifications of what is to come. Also, signing up for our Arkansas Inc. Newsletter is a valuable tool because we will be promoting the event via the newsletter. We will also be sending an email to our online directory, which again, if you're a part of the directory, you will be automatically receiving this type of notification. And we will be also pushing the event out through our resource partners. And I want to stop for a minute and talk about our resource partners for minority and women-owned businesses. I can't emphasize how much great work they do throughout the state. And so if you're a minority or woman owned business, or if you are a startup or you're thinking about starting a business, make sure that you do your research and look at the different organizations out there that can help you.

Esperanza Massana-Crane (24:00):

We, as AEDC are here to also guide that process. We have, for example, the Small Business Technology and Development Center (ASBTDC), who is an organization that helps business owners or people in general that are trying to start a business write business plans, write marketing plans, look into funding opportunities. Like how do I translate my idea into becoming a business? And so, they offer great consulting advice. And this is a great resource to look into. You also have PTAC, like I mentioned them earlier, if you're interested in contracting opportunities. You also have the small business administration, which is a great partner with us as well in the state and several others, organizations that do great work for the minority of women-owned business community.

Clark Cogbill (24:48):

Lots of great information shared today. I'm going to recap just a little bit. If you are a minority and women-owned business in Arkansas, learn more about the certification process and learn more about the directory. You want to be a part of that too. Do those things by visiting arkansasedc.com. Under community resources, you can find a link to the Minority and Women-Owned Business Division, where you can learn more about those things. Sign up for the MED Week leadership training hosted by Arkansas Economic Development Commission on September 21st. That will be in Little Rock from 8:30 to 12, just a half day at Mosaic Templars. The cost, there is none, it's free. Register by visiting arkansasedc.com/lead. Keynote speaker will be Jon Harrison, founder of VIP2.

Clark Cogbill (25:44):

And then stay tuned for more information coming up about the Minority and Women-Owned Business Matchmaking Event in the spring of 2022. I would like to thank our guests on today's episode, Esperanza Massana-Crane is director of the Minority and Women-Owned Business Division of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission and Jon Harrison, founder of VIP2. And Jon again will be our keynote speaker for MED Week Leadership Training.

Clark Cogbill (26:15):

You've been listening to the Arkansas Inc. Podcast. This is Clark Cogbill director of marketing with the Arkansas Economic Development Commission. For more information about AEDC visit arkansasedc.com and connect with us on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. Thanks for joining us today.