Awards luncheon honors those committed to bettering minority business enterprises

Information was flowing, March 19, during the Eastern Minority Supplier Development Council’s R.O.A.R. Conference and Matchmaker event held at the Marriott City Center. In addition to the MBEIC Breakfast Panel Discussion, numerous workshops and seminars occurred as well as matchmaking sessions, corporate roundtables and a networking happy hour. Recognition was also placed upon EMSDC supplier diversity and minority business honorees during the Stellar Awards Luncheon.

“In this, our second R.O.A.R. event held in Pittsburgh, we are looking to draw on the power of relationships to influence and impact the growth of diverse businesses. It is where vision meets progress,” said EMSDC President and CEO Valarie J. Cofield. Explaining that R.O.A.R. stands for “Return On All Relationships,” Cofield said R.O.A.R. is the sound of action, revealing that something is happening, telling people to pay attention.

The breakfast session, “How to Get Your Business Ready for an Economic Downturn,” consisted of open interactive dialogues on how large and small businesses should be preparing for the next economic downturn. Certified MBEs and corporate and financial institution representatives provided information on cash management and forecasting, business planning and evaluation, tips to work more strategically, and preparedness best practices.

Other morning sessions included; “Take Control of Your Supplier Onboarding Process,” “How to Use Stories to Build Value and Close Larger Deals,” “Gridiron Lessons for Navigating the Council,” “Closing Mistakes That Prolong the Selling Cycle,” and “Cybersecurity—Protecting Your Data.”

Curt Topper, from the Pennsylvania Department of General Services, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, Atoosa Mashayechi, Technical Sales Engineer at Silver Creek Services and Farad Ali, Vice President of the National Minority Supplier Development Council, were speakers during the Stellar Awards Luncheon. Former WTAE-TV anchor Bofta Yimam served as Mistress of Ceremony.

Representing Gov. Tom Wolf, Topper reiterated the governor’s obligation to small businesses in the state.

“Like you, the governor is committed to building business relationships and understands the importance of working together to get things done,” he said. “Four years ago, he sent us on a mission to repair a relationship that had not been receiving the attention it deserves—the relationship between the Commonwealth and minority-owned businesses across the state.”

He said a foundation has been laid to begin forming stronger relationships, making state contracting more diverse, inclusive and fair. Citing two examples, he announced the kickoff of the statewide expansion of the Bureau of Diversity, Inclusion and Small Business Opportunities Mentor-Protégé Program, and the completion of the state’s first state contracting disparity study.

“We have an opportunity to restore our government to the capacity to accomplish great and necessary things,” Topper said. “We have an opportunity to leave a profound legacy. One great thing that we will do for certain is to assure that the Commonwealth spends more of your money with Pennsylvania small businesses who, in turn, will spend more of your money in Pennsylvania communities where it is needed most. We know the steps to increase diversity and fairness in our contracting is ultimately going to help all Pennsylvanians.”

As he welcomed the out-of-town participants to Pittsburgh, Fitzgerald commended EMSDC for their work and praised the governor for his initiatives. Touting that the unemployment rate in the city is the lowest it has been in 50 years, he said Pittsburgh is a much different city than it was a few years ago.

“Pittsburgh is doing some really innovative things right now and there are great opportunities. But we have to make sure that it is a place for welcoming everybody no matter where you come from or whatever your ethnicity, race or gender, that the opportunities are open to everyone,” Fitzgerald said. “We have a lot of work to do, but the one thing I do know is that if we all work together, we can accomplish our goals.”

Ali is former CEO of The Institute, Durham, North Carolina’s nonprofit management consulting and services firm focused on business diversity and inclusion. He is a former mayoral candidate and Durham City Council member as well as a member of the Raleigh-Durham International Airport Authority. Sections of his discussion stressed the importance of entrepreneurs having sales projections and planning and being prepared for success. “Closing the U.S. racial gap is also necessary,” he said, pointing out that by 2050 more than half of the U.S. workers and consumers will be people of color.

Classifying the Stellar Awards Luncheon as an important part of the conference activities, Cofield said the awards recognize the achievements of top minority-owned businesses, dynamic industry leaders and major corporations committed to supplier diversity. Categories and recipients were: Innovative Spirit—Dennis Garrett of Blue Lake- Pacifia Energy Group (Garrett also received the MBE Forerunner Award); MBE Partnership—Gene Waddy of DIVERSANTI; Corporate Forerunner—Robert James, Supplier Diversity Program Director at Highmark Health; Corporate Best Practice—EQT Corporation (EQT also won the Corporate Leadership Cornerstone Award); Alexander Nichols Lifetime Achievement—Horace J. Britton, owner of CDI Printing


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