December 21, 2014

Elyria
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Diversity expo courts more than minorities

ELYRIA — Dozens of small-business owners and minority entrepreneurs turned out at a Lorain County conference to network and get a leg up in their industries, and one big-ticket item — the Elyria High School construction project — attracted a number of contractors looking for a piece of a $68 million pie.

The third annual Diversity Business-to-Business Expo, held Wednesday at Lorain County Community College’s Spitzer Conference Center and sponsored by Lorain County Urban League, featured at least 35 vendors courting a slew of entrepreneurs and business owners.

Among the highlights of the gathering were two presentations by Regency Construction and Elyria school officials, who say they’re pushing for more minority involvement as they build a new $68 million Elyria High School.

Lorain County Urban League President Fred Wright said the conference name was changed from “minority expo” to “diversity expo” as a way to attract more small business owners, all of whom fight the same fights as many minority business owners.

“They’re all at a disadvantage of knowing who they need to talk to to learn about business opportunities, especially in construction projects like Elyria High School,” Wright said.

Regency Construction head Tari Rivera said her business is certified as a minority business because it’s owned by a female, so she knows full well the hurdles that minorities and small-business owners have to overcome.

Rivera said she’s willing to walk minorities through the state process to become certified in EDGE — Encouraging Diversity, Growth and Equity — since the EHS construction project will only hire minority companies that are EDGE certified.

Among the minority and small businesses vying for a slice of the EHS project were a tree-cutting service, a janitorial company and a construction site clean-up company.

“Folks need to know where to look for the construction bids when they come out,” Wright said. “Regency has been really cooperative with this process — we’re definitely working together on this.”

Rivera said involving minority and small businesses in the EHS project will pull budding businesses into the scope of larger businesses, but she stressed that any interested companies will have to complete all state certification and other requirements — a “daunting process.”

“Let’s not let that get in the way of getting (minority) firms in Lorain County getting certified,” Rivera said.

School officials said construction bid openings will be posted on the EHS project’s Web site, www.anewelyriahigh.org.

Contact Shawn Foucher at 653-6255 or sfoucher@chroniclet.com.