City of Tacoma’s Minority Business Development Agency Business Center, the only municipality-operated MBDA in the United States, received recognition for its work in March by being named Public Agency of the Year by the Northwest Mountain Minority Supplier Development Council, which honors supplier diversity excellence among corporate and public agency members across the minority business enterprise community in Washington, Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming.
In a written statement, MBDA Business Center Program Director Linda Lee Womack said, “It is an honor to accept this award on behalf of the City of Tacoma’s MBDA Business Center … Our partnership with the City of Tacoma gives us a greater degree of flexibility in our efforts to provide ongoing, quality assistance to minority businesses with rapid growth potential.”
The MBDA Business Center was established in April 2016 when the City received a five-year, $1.5 million grant awarded by the U.S. Department of Commerce. Over the course of the five-year grant, City of Tacoma is committed to matching the grant with $150,000 of in-kind support per year.
Womack started with the agency as its director in September 2016.
“We provide quality technical assistance for minority-owned businesses to help them scale up, in order to be able to bid on contracts,” Womack explained. “The City procures about $300 million in contracting opportunities each year that is awarded in public works, products, and professional services.”
Unfortunately, said Womack, less than 2 percent of minority-owned businesses are capturing those contracts. Womack said the MBDA is hopeful that through collaboration through these (minority-owned) businesses and the City’s community economic team that the number of contracts being awarded to minority-owned businesses will increase.
Womack said the City-operated MBDA Business Center provides services to minority-owned businesses all across the state of Washington, although a large concentration of outreach by the MBDA is done locally in Tacoma and the South Sound.
“Minority-owned businesses are starting to seek us out,” Womack said. “Those businesses that have traditionally not done business in Tacoma are starting to notice Tacoma more.”
Womack said the MBDA does not work with startup businesses, but rather, those that have the capacity and the potential to rapidly scale up. Businesses wishing to utilize MBDA services must demonstrate a successful business operation for three years, while producing $1 million in annual revenues.
“We put funds and resources behind businesses that can create jobs,” Womack said.
That said, Womack said the MBDA will provide a consultation for every business that comes its way. If a business does not fit the criteria at the moment, Womack said the business owner will be provided resources and contacts to help them scale up with the hopes of returning to the MBDA at a later date.
“I think we were given the award, because we weren’t exclusive,” Womack said. “Clients say we go out of our way (to help them).”
MBDA’s services are free, including a consultation, with the exception of consulting fees for legal, contract review, and bid estimates.
Womack said the MBDA provides tailored services, fit for each individual owner’s needs, depending on their situation.
“I don’t want them to see the scarcity of resources,” she said. “I want them to achieve beyond what they think they are capable of and reach for the stars in a very methodical, aspirational way, with concrete steps.”
The MBDA Business Center is serving 82 businesses, the majority of which are in the construction sector—an area where many high-value contracts are ripe for the picking.
James McMillan, owner of Puget Sound Quality Coatings in Fife, is one firm that is striving to break into more commercial accounts, following over a decade of doing interior and exterior painting jobs in residential.
“I found that it wasn’t an easy thing,” said McMillan, who is Native American. “I got in touch with Linda last November. With the help of the MBDA, I got my minority-owned business certification.”
A MBDA consultant then connected McMillan with the Washington State Department of Transportation, which helped him with strengthening his cash flow, business planning, and how to estimate large projects off of blueprints. McMillan said the MBDA continues still as a line of support and helped him write a capability statement that informs prime contractors the services he provides.
Another client served by the MBDA is Celebrity Gourmet Ventures, co-owned by Odette D’Aniello. Known for its custom-cake shop in the Dome District, Celebrity Gourmet Ventures in December 2016 acquired a trademarked product line called Dragonfly Cakes, based in Sausalito, Calif.
MBDA, along with Impact Washington, helped D’Aniello’s operation connect with a consultant who helped improve production efficiencies and distribute the product nationwide. Shipment of the product began in March 2017.
“The MBDA has been amazing,” said D’Aniello, a Filipino woman. “Linda is a godsend.”
A third business the MBDA has helped is Scott Funeral and Cremation Services, the last legacy African American-owned operation on Hilltop. Coretta Harwood, daughter of the business’s founder, the late Larry Ray Scott, recently purchased the business from her mother.
“What (Linda helped me with) was identifying new ways to capture new market share and helped me with capitalizing on different relationships,” Harwood said. “She is an amazing business woman, very well connected, and was able to assist me with areas of the business I didn’t think about.”
Meanwhile, in order to prepare those businesses wishing to grow and improve their chances for contracts flowing down the pipeline, the MBDA, in partnership with Sound Transit and the Northwest Small Business Transportation Resource Center, is presenting free “Grow Your Business” workshops every Tuesday in May at Tacoma City Hall, 747 Market Street, from 4-7 p.m. Businesses will learn about bidding/estimating, surety bonding, and marketing, as well as have the opportunity to network with prime contractors. For more information, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about the MBDA, visit mbda.gov/businesscenters/tacoma.