The Arkansas Economic Development Commission has expanded its program assisting minority business owners to include women and veterans. As a result, the division of AEDC is now the Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprise Division.
The Arkansas law that amended the program, Act 1080, goes into effect Friday (Sept. 1).
Gov. Asa Hutchinson, other government officials and business leaders from around the state gathered at three simultaneous events at 10:30 on Thursday (Aug. 31) to announce the expansion of the program.
“Arkansas’ minority and women-owned businesses have a unique opportunity to increase their market share in their chosen industry while enhancing our thriving economy,” Gov. Hutchinson said in a statement. “By expanding the program, we are actively supporting our current minority and veteran-owned businesses while potentially creating a new generation of women-owned entrepreneurs with widened access to state business.”
Gov. Hutchinson, AEDC Executive Director Mike Preston and program director Patricia Nunn Brown were part of a press conference at the Arkansas State Library in Little Rock. Jonesboro Regional Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Mark Young and Mayor Harold Perrin presided over an announcement at the Jonesboro chamber, and Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Steve Clark, the chamber’s director of economic development, Chung Tan and Mayor Lioneld Jordan presented the announcement at the entrance of the Fayetteville Town Center.
“Women of every race, class and ethnic background make contributions to the growth and strength of our city and our nation in countless ways and they play a critical economic role in our cities across this state,” Jordan said.
Revenue at women-owned business in Arkansas almost doubled between 1997 and 2015, according to American Express OPEN 2016 State of Women-Owned Businesses report. The data was presented at the press conference. During that time the number of women-owned firms rose 73% during that time, while employment from the firms was down 7%, according to the data. U.S. Census estimates show 6% of females identified themselves as self-employed in 2014, compared to 12% of males. The data also show 12% of veterans and 6% of minorities were self-employed.
Under the new changes, women can apply for certification that includes official identification as a women or minority owned business, in addition to training and networking activities and notification of opportunities to conduct business with state agencies, according to AEDC. Expansion of the program also “helps state agencies meet the diversity spending target,” according to an AEDC press release.
“This expansion is an obvious next step to promote small and women-owned businesses in Arkansas and stimulate the growth of the program,” Brown said in a statement.
Preston stressed the importance of active participation on the part of individual business owners. Participation in the program requires an application and certification process through AEDC.
“Although it’s important that we give minority and women-owned businesses the infrastructure and resources for success and longevity, each business owner must take advantage of these opportunities, and that includes going through the certification process and participating in training and other opportunities provided by AEDC and our partners,” Preston said in a statement.
To apply for a state contract, a business must be 51% minority-, veteran- or woman-owned, owned by an Arkansas resident, and it must not earn annual revenue more than $10 million, according to AEDC.
“Before this most recent legislative session, Arkansas was one of only six states that did not include women in this particular certification,” Brooke Vines, owner of Vines Media and member of the Arkansas Minority Business Advisory Council, said in a statement. “Many states require that a certain percentage of a bid go to a woman or minority owned business, not to exclude men but to ensure that diversity is a part of all the decisions. It is typically a fraction of the total contract, but it gives boutique shops an opportunity to get experience on large contracts that they would otherwise not be considered.”
Other displays at the Fayetteville press conference showed that Pacific Islander-owned businesses increased 66% between 2007 and 2012 in Arkansas. African American-owned businesses increased by 55% during that time, Hispanic-owned businesses increased by 47% and Asian-owned businesses increased by 43%, according to business owner survey published by the U.S. Small Business Administration in December 2015.
The survey shows Alaskan- and Native American-owned businesses also increased, up 16% during the five year period. The share of minority-owned businesses overall increased 52% and nonminority-owned businesses decreased 7%, according to the SBA.