Esperanza Massana Crane, director of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission’s Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprise Division, says she sees a lot of possibility for those she represents.
“AEDC has always been committed to helping businesses, particularly small businesses, which represent more than 99% of the businesses in the state,” Crane says.
She credits a low cost-of-living and a business-friendly state government that feeds Arkansas’ “entrepreneurial ecosystem.”
“We understand the importance of minority- and women-owned businesses because behind these companies, there are creative, innovative entrepreneurs who are making a difference in Arkansas.”
HISTORY OF MWOBE
The Division of Minority Business Enterprise was established by the General Assembly of Arkansas in 1977. Since then, the division has seen significant change to better suit the needs of Arkansas’ business communities and leaders.
Updated in 2009 to the Minority Business Development
Act, it recognized the importance of providing equal opportunity as well as economic development in every sector.
In 2017, the program was amended to include women and service-disabled veterans, and as a result, the division of
AEDC is now the Division of Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprise.
“The division looks different today than it once did,” Crane says, “but through these changes, we have been able to accomplish more for the state’s minority and women entrepreneurs.”
Today, according to Crane, there is a healthy certification program, a robust online directory with more than 1,800 records of minority- and women-owned businesses across the state and the determination to collaborate with several Entrepreneur Service Organizations (ESOs) to help build, strengthen and grow Arkansas small businesses.
The mission of the MWOBE is to be a resource provider and connector. It facilitates growth, development and expansion of these businesses by helping them gain access to valuable information, new market opportunities and financial resources.
“The beauty of all these businesses is that they all vary in industry,” Crane says. “You will find financial services, transportation services, consulting, shipping, contractors and even a distillery. The diversity of these businesses says a lot about the makeup of our local economy, and I think we need to focus on ways in which we can assist with their growth.”
As evidence of that growth, the MWOBE certified 37 businesses in 2022, as compared to 33 businesses in 2021.
“A higher degree of social conscience and humanistic-based businesses will be the result of the growth of minority- and women-owned businesses, particularly women-owned, as they will re-invest in their communities, thus helping their local economies and ultimately strengthening the state’s economy.”
HOW MWOBE WORKS
Businesses certified as minority-owned can take advantage of training events, workshops and network and educational opportunities. And thanks to COVID, most of these are offered virtually, allowing business owners flexibility to join when it's convenient.
There are several resources available for entrepreneurs across the state that are free of charge, and the MWOBE can assist in connecting the right resources with the right entrepreneur.
“For example,” Crane says, “if you are an entrepreneur looking to start a business, doing your research is critical. I highly recommend you contact the Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center (ASBTDC) as a first step. They can assist with helping you develop your idea and guide you to materialize it into a business.”
She also says she can’t emphasize enough the importance of established minority or woman-owned businesses signing up to appear on the MWOBE online directory. Certified businesses are listed as such in the state’s official online directory and receive increased opportunity to sell products and services to the State of Arkansas, thereby helping them to grow.
The directory is constantly accessed by procurement officials from local and state government, as well as the private sector, and has expanded from 1,250 entries in 2020 to 1,867 at the end of 2022.
According to Crane, critical communication and information dissemination, such as details regarding COVID relief funds, was made much more simple thanks to MWOBE's ability to contact businesses on the directory, as well as relationships built over the years. As a result, minority-owned businesses accounted for 25% of the Ready for Business Grants that Arkansas provided with COVID relief funds, and women-owned businesses accounted for 33%.
“No matter what stage you are in as a business, mentorship and networking are two areas that can make a difference. If you need growth, seek out mentorship opportunities and never stop networking,” Crane says. “And if you already are a successful business, find ways in which you can mentor others, as this is how we can strengthen Arkansas’ economy, grow families, break cycles and ultimately create more opportunities.”
Arkansas’ Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprise website holds a wealth of information for business owners, such as:
► Directory: Search and submit your business to the directory
► Get certified: No-cost review process designed to ensure a minority- or women-owned business is actually owned, controlled and operated by the applicant
► Partnerships: Find help with groups like Innovate Arkansas, Arkansas Women’s Business Center and The Venture Center
► Resources: Studies and reports about women business ownership, community development, entrepreneur support and exports and international trade
► Events: Networking and learning opportunities to grow business
► Procurement Resources: A how-to on obtaining contracts within the municipalities, counties and state
Visit arkansasedc.com for more information.