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Economy drives entrepreneurship

Minority-owned firms on rise in metro Toledo


Gary Johnson, founder of American Flooring Installers LLC, supervises employees Daniel Vasquez, left, and Michael Johnson as they install carpeting in an office building.

The Blade/Amy E. Voigt
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In six years, Gary Johnson has gone from fledgling entrepreneur to owner of a commercial flooring business that is doubling in size.

He started American Flooring Installers LLC in 2005 with three employees. Today, the Toledo firm has eight employees and expects sales of $2 million this year, up from $1 million in 2010.

Mr. Johnson, president of the Northwest Ohio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, is now using his success to help an increasing number of aspiring entrepreneurs who join the organization.

"Anybody can start a business," said Mr. Johnson, who said the chamber has 45 members. "And it's not necessarily the amount of money you have to start the business, but the burning desire to succeed."

Mr. Johnson's company is part of a swiftly growing group of minority-owned businesses throughout metro Toledo, according to recently released data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

There were more than 2,250 black-owned firms in metropolitan Toledo in 2007, up 38.4 percent from 2002, the census shows. The region had 945 Latino-owned firms in 2007, a 30.7-percent increase from 2002, and 755 Asian-owned firms in 2007, an increase of 14 percent from 2002.

Minority firms grew at a faster rate than all businesses in the region during that period. There were nearly 48,350 companies in metro Toledo in 2007, up 8.4 percent from about 44,590 in 2002.

Nationally, the number of minority owned firms grew 45.5 percent from 2002 to 2007, compared to an increase of 17.9 percent for all U.S. businesses during that period, according to the Census.

Janet Butler, spokesman with the Census Bureau in Detroit, said a declining economy in recent years caused cuts at larger companies that prompted many people to start their own firms -- a trend that, she said, may have continued past 2007.

"People are looking for new ways to generate their own income by starting small businesses that would serve the community," Ms. Butler said.

Mr. Johnson said a recent push for diversity in public and private-sector contracting has led to an increase in the number of minority-owned firms tapping into those markets.

"There's a lot of industries out there saying that diversity is good for business," he said.

The Toledo area has a reliable support network for minority-owned firms that is helping them to grow, said Shanda Gore, assistant vice president for equity and diversity at the University of Toledo. She directs the university's Minority Business Development Center, an incubator that helps grow local minority-owned companies.

The center, which launched in September, 2009, includes seven member firms and two chambers of commerce, including the local Hispanic chamber.

Ms. Gore said groups such as the UT incubator, the Toledo Minority Business Assistance Center at the Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce, and the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority's Diversified Contractors Accelerator Program are helping to build and retain minority firms in metro Toledo.

"You have a lot of different elements in the community sitting at the same table, and the synergy is making a difference," she said.

Contact Sheena Harrison at: or 419-724-6103.

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