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Published: Monday, 2/18/2008

Agency chief championing minority business in Toledo

Vincent Wiggins of the Toledo African-American Bureau of Commerce says he's become 'almost a full-time volunteer.' Vincent Wiggins of the Toledo African-American Bureau of Commerce says he's become 'almost a full-time volunteer.'

Several years ago, Vincent Wiggins did what a lot of young, business-savvy men would never dream of doing - he turned down a promotion to his company's corporate headquarters.

Mr. Wiggins, who then worked for Marathon Oil's supplier diversity program, had been offered, but said no to, a job in Houston.

"Everybody thought I was stupid," he said. Still, Mr. Wiggins, 38, explained, he felt like he needed to do more to make a difference in his hometown of Toledo before he could leave.

And he's working to make a difference right now as board president of the Toledo African-American Bureau of Commerce.

"It has become my full-time job," he said. "I've made myself almost a full-time volunteer."

Formerly the Northwest Ohio Black Chamber of Commerce, the organization changed its name in December. The group wanted to update its brand with a more contemporary name and wanted to refocus the organization. Some of its main pillars now include education, board development, working on alternative funding sources for projects, and galvanizing the group's base of minority contractors, Mr. Wiggins said.

Through his work with the bureau, he and the other board members help identify ways for black and minority-owned businesses to succeed, he said. Mr. Wiggins said that can involve everything from helping businesses get funding, or serving as a liaison between the business and a government agency or contracting agency.

"It's not so much about complaining about who's not giving us opportunities but to make our own opportunities," Mr. Wiggins said.

One project the board is working on is the creation of a "unity fund" where participants can pool their resources to use on an investment, such as a new company, a restaurant, or a housing project.

"It could be any number of things," he said, though he said they will probably focus their efforts on the real-estate or technology markets.

"The best way to get money is to combine resources," he said.

The Bureau does sometimes refer folks to the Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce, he said.

"We don't want to duplicate [services]," Mr. Wiggins said.

When he's not doing work with the bureau, you'll find Mr. Wiggins cheering for the Pittsburgh Steelers, exercising, worshiping at the Church on Strayer, or spending time with his wife, Roberta, whom he describes as "supporting, dynamic, and loving," or playing with his three children, Shawn, 7, Sheridan, 4, and Samuel, 2.

Olivia Holden, a board member of the bureau, describes Mr. Wiggins as extremely focused on the group's goals and missions. She also describes him as a great listener.

"He's listening to the contractors," Ms. Holden said. "He's listening to the business owners and trying to pull people together."

She added, "He brings a lot to the table. Plus he has such a laugh - everybody has to like him."

- Kate Giammarise

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