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Northern Virginia Chamber Caters to Black Businesses

Kirk Beldon Jackson | 3/11/2009, 8:56 p.m.

Last year, Marcia Crockett decided to make a business of her longtime hobby of making jewelry. Learning her trade through books and classes, the former federal systems analyst was looking for help in marketing her earrings and necklaces when she came upon the Northern Virginia Black Chamber of Commerce, a new organization designed to invigorate minority business in that region.

Launched in September, the organization began largely with €mixers€ at which entrepreneurs exchanged talk, ideas and business cards.
The chamber has since grown to about 20 members and has picked up its first corporate founding sponsor, Aetna Health Insurance.
It is also planning breakfast seminars on €tax talk,€ €Effective Closing Techniques,€ and other business-related topics, said Gaea Honeycutt and Randy Philip, co-founders with two other entrepreneurs. The chamber was founded as a means of establishing a network in Northern Virginia for minority businesses. The new organization€s mantra is that it is open to minority business and any who support it, Philip and Honeycutt said.

€You just need to come and play and there€s room for everyone,€ said Honeycutt, whose business offers research, analysis and communications services. African American business owners in Northern Virginia said the organization sets up a networking conduit particularly useful to newer businesses.

€It gave me the opportunity to at least get into a brain trust with people like me who are trying to do the same thing,€ said Clarence Brown, now in the second year of running a company that provides motivational speaking and training to school systems, churches and civic organizations. Yao Tyus, principal owner of Steppingstones Management Services, LLC, a Washington, D.C. based organization providing education and mentoring services to children, said he worked out a deal for professional insurance from someone he had struck up a conversation with at a chamber event.

€There€s a friendly opportunity for folks to talk to each other and get to know each other, learn each other€s business and industry,€ said Tyus, a chamber member.

With its hi-tech corridors and its proximity to the federal government, Northern Virginia has tremendous potential for growth, Philip and Honeycutt said.
€Bottom line is, companies are still adding jobs here while other areas are losing jobs,€ said Gerald L. Gordon, Ph. D., president and CEO of the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority.

Statistics and observers indicate that the region€s minority communities might be sharing in some of the area€s good fortune.
Six of the country€s 100 largest Black-owned businesses are located in Northern Virginia, according to figures released by Black Enterprise Magazine in June 2008.

Fairfax County alone is home to over 5,000 Black businesses, according to statistics included in the 2002 economic census completed by the U.S. Census Bureau. Honeycutt and Philip said they would like chamber members to be able to tap into contracting opportunities with the federal government. They also hope their chamber can serve as a resource for companies looking to establish partnerships with minority business.

€We want us to be one of the stops where they come to find a partner,€ said Philip, himself founder of an insurance consulting company.
Local entrepreneurs have their own recommendations for what the chamber should focus on.
Economic, media and marketing consultant Burton Powell feels that African American entrepreneurs should concentrate on being producers, €not just for ourselves, but for other people.€

€I think that yes, we should still be making sure that corporate America and government gives us a portion of the opportunities that comes through government contracts or corporate contracts, but that doesn€t relieve us of the responsibility to also be productive in this economy ourselves,€ he said.
Meanwhile, Leonard W. Smith III, International Team Builder for Agel, which provides dietary supplements, said the chamber should work to educate young people.

€They should begin implementation of programs that will educate and empower youth with (ideas) of entrepreneurship, which are often neglected in the school system,€ Smith said.