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African American business leaders discuss economic opportunities

L-R: Monte Edwards with the M. Edwards Group, Shaunne N. Thomas (center), Guilford MWBE director; and Charlotte City Council member (At-Large) James Mitchell Jr. with 5-Star Supply.
Photo by Ivan S. Cutler / Carolina Peacemaker.

North Carolina’s African American owned businesses are rising on the strength of collective, civic, political and personal influence to capture the state’s economic power and create access to more capital in order to prosper.

In a couple of separate yet similar dynamic meetings in Guilford County — The African American Business Summit and Forward Together Welcome to Guilford County MWBE (Minority/Women Business Enterprise) — leaders assembled to share wisdom with hundreds of participants for mutual benefit and command all resources to receive equal and fair opportunities in all areas of business and contracting. Despite the gradual gains, access to business capital and economic opportunities are not coming fast enough.

“We’re here to kill Jim Crow economics . . . and put more green dollars in Black hands,” exhorted Earl Jones, co-founder of the Greensboro Business League, and producer of the summit billed as the State of Black Business. Pacing the overflowing auditorium stage of the International Civil Rights Center & Museum, the former state representative and co-founder of the Center & Museum said all disparities over the years “. . . is not just about Civil Rights, but the lack of Silver Rights . . . denied economic power.”

A few days later, Shaunne N. Thomas, new director, Guilford County MWBE, forcefully called on attendees in the Barber Park Event Center to contact her office to become certified, if not already, and discover ways to use the agency to generate more business that has been denied. In a call and response presentation, she declared “forward,” asking the audience to respond with “together,” in rally context to guide more African American businesses that are receiving less than one percent of the Guilford County’s annual budget exceeding $700 million.

At both meetings, panelists and other speakers said the collective energy of strong African American businesses creates prosperity “not just for our community but all communities,” said Monte Edwards, a panelist at the Business Summit and attendee at the MWBE Forward Together meeting, which served as an introduction to Guilford County’s newly established Minority/Women Business Enterprise department. Following the short presentation at the meeting, also sponsored by East Greensboro NOW!, MWBE attendees engaged in high energy networking with businesses leaders.

At the African American Business Summit, keynote speaker, N.C. Secretary of Commerce Machelle Baker Sanders, enumerated major economic investments, achievements and events in Guilford County and around the state that have positioned North Carolina as a leading choice for business growth. As she concluded her celebratory presentation, she paused and said despite all the economic growth, “our major challenge is to establish wage equity” so all North Carolinians can be paid what they deserve for their labor and contributions.

Two panels highlighted the business summit. During the morning session, panelists included Vanessa Coble, Senior Medical Supply; Monte Edwards, M. Edwards Group; Geoff Foster, Core Technology Molding Corp.; Elma J. Hairston, Dynamic Images International; and James Sills, M&F Bank. The afternoon panel of elected officials included Melvin “Skip” Alston and J. Carlvena Foster, Guilford County Board of Commissioners; Deena Hayes-Greene, Guilford County Schools; Sharon Hightower, Greensboro City Council member; and N.C. Senator Gladys Robinson.