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Published: Thursday, 8/26/2010

Minority office busy as tough economy draws entrepreneurs

BY MIKE JONES
SPECIAL TO THE BLADE

David Wood likens his office at the Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce to a doctor's office. The help his visitors are seeking is for advice on how to begin or improve a business and to be certified as a minority-owned business.

"As soon as you've finished with one, there's another coming in,'' he said.

The help his visitors are seeking is for advice on how to begin or improve a business and to be certified as a minority-owned business.

Mr. Wood is director of the Minority Business Assistance Center at the chamber.

A tough economy, he said, has led to an increase in workers intent on developing a bona fide business.

His office tries to aid such entrepreneurs with paperwork to get them eligible for potential government jobs and general networking possibilities.

The chamber's Minority Contractors and Business Assistance Program also certifies businesses as minority-owned, which can be beneficial in handling certain government contract work.

Small entrepreneurs who have made a living working out of their homes or garages have come to recognize a need for developing a more structured business if they are going to be able to bid on government work or get a loan for

expansion, he said.

One who sought help was Theodore Turner, who credits the chamber office with "guiding me all the way into getting open.''

Mr. Turner owns C. and T. Clothing at 3342 Lagrange St..

He gave up a job as a truck driver for Chrysler because of health problems.

He had a vendors' license to sell apparel out of his home before he decided to open a clothing store.

The shop has been open for about a year.

"It was tough at first," he said. "It's still tough, but we're doing better.

"I'm bringing out my own line of children's clothing, and I think that's going to fill a need for parents of boys who are husky and plus-size girls.''

When Mr. Turner opened for business, the emphasis was on large sizes, but he has broadened his inventory to include more sizes.

He said he is able to compete with bigger stores by offering discounts to church members and to children who have a good report card, and he carries larger sizes than most.

Mr. Wood said leading entrepreneurs toward a solid business plan is what he has done for the nearly 90 people he has helped in the first three quarters of the agency's last fiscal year.

That doesn't count people who start the process with him and perhaps continue, but on their own. It also doesn't count the people who attend seminars and other programs his office sponsors.

Mr. Wood is an accountant by training.

The office is funded by a $100,000 grant from the Ohio Department of Development and $25,000 from the local chamber.

Gary Johnson had been working as a financial planner in Monroe when he considered opening his own business closer to his Sylvania Township home.

He said he was new to the construction business, but the chamber office "spoon-fed me and they are directly responsible'' for the start up of American Flooring Installation LLC.

The firm has offices in the downtown Toledo warehouse district.

Mr. Johnson, who is president of the Northwest Ohio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said the ability to be certified as a minority-owned business has helped him get government contracts.

He said his business more than doubled last year to about $600,000. Eighty percent of the work is from the government. The goal for this year is to do $1 million in business, Mr. Johnson added.

The business, which has been in operation about three years, employs seven to 10 workers, depending on demand.



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