Minority business owners aiming to build companies and create jobs can get help.
As the downturn loomed a couple of years ago, Dennis Diaz faced a difficult choice: Proceed with plans to consolidate the headquarters, showroom and factory of his BGD Companies Inc., which makes custom furniture for restaurants, shopping centers and casinos, or wait for better times.
Diaz didn't face the decision alone. Along with his wife and co-founder, Angie, he got assistance from the Metropolitan Economic Development Association (MEDA, www.meda.net), which helped develop a business plan. He ultimately decided to consolidate, which meant a significant investment in automation with the purchase of a computer numerically controlled (CNC) router.
"We have a 10-year plan," Diaz said as he showed off the 40,000-square-foot building in Crystal that the company purchased and occupied in 2008. "Do we go ahead or do we stop or freeze our plan? At some point, though, the economy's going to go up. If you're not ready for it, you're going to be left behind. We want to bring the company to a level that will be self-sufficient."
Diaz is a graduate of MEDA's Pacesetter program, a three-year, invitation-only program that offers consulting services to help high-potential entrepreneurs build sustainable companies, create jobs, develop leadership skills and contribute to MEDA and the community.
He joined his wife in this country in 1976 after both had immigrated from the Philippines. With advice from MEDA consultants, Diaz and his wife built BGD Cos. (www.bgdcompanies.com) from a modest importer of rattan baskets and gifts into a national supplier of custom-designed tables, chairs, booths and other furniture made locally by 30 employees. Angie Diaz serves as vice president for administration.
Dennis Diaz, a 2001 Pacesetter graduate, joined many of the 55 program alumni last week for a holiday reception at the Minneapolis Club. The event included the graduation of Pacesetters Andy Wells of Wells Technology, a precision metal machining company in Bemidji, and Nuzhat and Naeem Qureshi of Progressive Consulting Engineers, a water supply and utility design firm in Brooklyn Park.
Enabling equal opportunity
Founded in 1971, the Minneapolis-based nonprofit assists businesses owned and managed by racial and ethnic minorities. MEDA helps new and existing businesses seeking to create jobs, increase revenue and profits and get involved in the community.
Naeem Qureshi, president of Progressive Consulting Engineers (www.pce.com), said the Pacesetter program and additional input from MEDA have helped the company ride out the recession. The program helped clarify the company's values, define its core business and spread leadership skills to his staff through a mentoring program. New marketing efforts have contributed to modest revenue gains despite the sour economy.
"Frankly, if we didn't have that resource we probably would not exist," Qureshi said of MEDA and its Pacesetter program. "Times are really tough. There are a lot of firms that have closed offices here."
Now in the Pacesetter program, Manny Gonzalez of Manny's Tortas in Minneapolis said MEDA helped him use Facebook and Twitter to build his gourmet Mexican sandwich brand and connect with customers. Working with MEDA also gives him perspective on other business issues.
"I learn a lot and can see where I would like to take my business," Gonzalez said. "Sometimes you're too busy working inside the business. What they're trying to do is pull you out so you work on your business and not just in your business. They're helping me see the big picture and at the same time working on the small details of the business."
Pacesetter companies generate their own success, said George Jacobson, director of MEDA's business consulting services and loan program. The program's role is to help fill gaps in knowledge, financing, management or processes and procedures.
"The focus of the program is a strategic, long-term business development effort where we try to help businesses grow beyond the smaller stage," Jacobson said. "We work with firms that have potential for scale, potential for growth and impact in the community. When you've got people who are successful they become role models in their community so others can see entrepreneurship is a viable option."