Donald Fry: Minority and women entrepreneurs provide lessons in seizing opportunity

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By Donald C. Fry

Looking for some inspiration in a flat economy?

The Greater Baltimore Committee found out recently that you don’t have to search far to find minority and women entrepreneurs who recognized opportunities, seized them, and built businesses around them.

In virtually every instance the success stories of Maryland entrepreneurs, recounted last night at the GBC’s 8th annual Bridging the Gap Awards, involved a leap of faith.

Take Leslie Harris, for example. Armed with a master’s degree in architecture from Morgan State University and eight years of experience working at architectural firms in Baltimore, Leslie Harris founded her own firm in 2004. Today her full-service firm, Harris-Kupfer, specializes in health care architecture for clients including the University of Maryland Medical System and assisted-living facilities where it has effectively integrated green elements into designs that were budget-conscious as well.

Or consider Carol Koffinke who, in less than 10 years, has achieved success in the male-dominated federal contracting sector. The Bel Air-based organizational development and performance firm she founded in 2002, Beacon Associates, has grown from a one-woman shop into a 200-employee company that has served more than a dozen federal agencies and clients in numerous commercial and nonprofit industry sectors. Today, her firm is among the Wall Street Journal’s top 20 fastest growing woman-led firms in North America.

And there’s Shina Parker, who took her leap of faith after 14 years in the real estate title industry when, in 1999, she founded her own firm, Integrity Title & Escrow Company. She and her business partner, Monzella Owings, developed a seasoned team of lawyers and real estate experts around a service-oriented business philosophy that has driven the growth of their Owings Mills-based firm into a top-ranking woman-owned title company in the state.

These are just a few of this year’s 10 Bridging the Gap Award winners. All are examples of what entrepreneurial vision and drive can accomplish in any economy.

Other winners of the 2011 Bridging the Gap awards are:

Audacious Inquiry. This minority-owned innovative management and technology consulting firm specializes in health care information systems. Since its founding in 2004, the Catonsville-based company has grown to 22 employees, 73 percent of whom are women or minorities. Audacious Inquiry’s revenue growth has earned it a place on Inc. Magazine’s list of 5,000 fastest-growing private companies in the U.S.

BEMO Corporation. With little more than $1,000 in his pocket, a computer, a vision, and solid knowledge of the energy industry, James A. Brown launched his BEMO energy services firm in Baltimore less than two years ago. Seizing opportunity amid a “Green Revolution,” BEMO performs home energy audits for BGE customers, delivering energy-saving value to customers and to BGE. In its second year, BEMO’s 25 employees are servicing $2 million in BGE contracts.

C. Jones Trucking LLC. Under the leadership of CEO Norman “Reggie” Anderson, C. Jones Trucking has grown in a challenging economy by offering a broad range of services including trucking, project management, construction management and asphalt manufacturing. It currently is Maryland’s only MBE-certified asphalt manufacturer. The 25-employee Aberdeen-based firm partners with other minority-owned contractors to pursue new business opportunities. It received a 2011 Contractor of the Year Award from the MWMCA.

University of Maryland Medical System. UMMS was honored for commitment to inclusive business practices by a majority-owned business. It has emerged as an industry leader in developing a successful, comprehensive, and strategic approach to furthering the expansion of minority and women-owned business opportunities with the hospital system.

At UMMS, a board-level committee drives the medical system’s commitment to creating an infrastructure to support MWBE business development and participation in system operations. Among other things, the system’s multi-faceted approach has generated between 27 percent and 42 percent MWBE participation in major construction projects, and increased supply purchases from minority and women-owned firms from $20 million in 2010 to $31 million in 2011.

The Cordish Companies and Commercial Interiors. These two companies were honored for their outstanding partnership between a majority-owed firm and a minority-owned one. The Cordish Companies and its CEO, David Cordish, have consistently demonstrated a strong commitment to minority participation on projects that have MBE goals, as well as projects that don’t. In both instances, Cordish has made minority-owned Commercial Interiors, based in Hanover, Maryland, a valued construction management partner.

In 2010, Cordish selected Commercial Interiors, led by its president, Kevin Johnson, to complete a $1.1 million private project with no MBE mandates – Dick’s Last Resort in Baltimore’s Power Plant Live! Cordish also turned to Commercial Interiors as its lead joint venture partner to build the $250 million Maryland Live! Casino. The high-profile project, which broke ground last January, is expected to award $95 million in construction work to minority businesses – significantly more than the state mandate.

The Cordish Companies and Commercial Interiors together have demonstrated the high value and positive impact on minority business development to be derived through partnerships between majority-owned and minority-owned companies.

Stanley Tucker, president & CEO, Meridian Management Group. For more than 30 years, Stanley Tucker has been on the front lines of minority business development, helping minority entrepreneurs overcome one of their greatest obstacles – gaining access to capital to allow them to pursue their business visions.

The GBC honored Tucker with its 2011 Bridging the Gap President’s Award.

For the past 16 years, as president of Meridian Management Group, Tucker has provided professional asset management and financing services to small and emerging minority-owned firms in Maryland.

Tucker has been a visible, passionate, and highly committed advocate for advancing opportunities and resources for minority-owned businesses since 1980, when he became executive director of the Maryland Small Business Development Financing Authority (MSBDFA), a state agency charged with providing financing – including bonding, contract financing, and working capital – to a wide range of small and minority-owned firms. Today, MSBDFA remains among Meridian’s portfolio of financing options available to its small business clients.

Over the decades, Tucker has provided access to capital and invaluable consultation for hundreds of small, minority and women-owned firms. His advocacy on behalf of minority-owned business development is legendary. He has converted his low-key, easy-going personality, strategic approach, and high integrity into opportunities for individual entrepreneurs and, along the way, has moved agendas and forged winning strategies in the area of MBE policy development.

These award winners garnered the GBC honors this year, but they are representative of many more highly-driven, successful entrepreneurs who exemplify the kind of ground-level private-sector achievement that drives our economy.

There is currently a lot of talk and media comment about what’s wrong with our economy. These entrepreneurs offer compelling illustrations of what’s right with it.

Donald C. Fry is president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee. He is a regular contributor to Center Maryland.

Recent Center Maryland columns by Donald C. Fry:

Aberdeen Proving Ground: Maryland’s newest economic powerhouse

Baltimore region endures recession losses, but drives state’s modest jobs comeback

State web site seeks business feedback on regulations

Job-creation impact of transportation gets lawmakers’ attention

Sluggish growth forecast for Maryland not a recession, but is it ‘okay?’

Mobility: the ultimate jobs issue

Tech jobs are here, more are coming, but can we fill them?

Breaking free of transportation funding limbo in D.C. and Annapolis

The Grand Prix’s lessons

Maryland jobs data show July gains, sobering long-term reality

Quake serves as reminder about transportation

Maryland funding for DBED lags behind competing states

Opportunity for Baltimore looms from Panama
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Donald C. Fry has been the president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee (GBC), the central Maryland region's most prominent organization of business and civic leaders, since November 2002.

Under Don’s leadership, the GBC is recognized as a knowledgeable and highly credible business voice in the Baltimore region, Annapolis and Washington, D.C. on policy issues and competitive challenges facing Maryland. Its mission is to apply private-sector leadership to strengthening the business climate and quality of life in the region and state.

Fry served as GBC executive vice president from 1999 to 2002. From 1980 to 1999 Fry was engaged in a private law practice in Harford County. During this time he also served in the Maryland General Assembly. He is one of only a handful of legislators to have served on each of the major budget committees of the General Assembly.

Serving in the Senate of Maryland from 1997 to 1998, Fry was a member of the Budget and Taxation Committee. As a member of the House of Delegates from 1991 to 1997 Fry served on the Ways and Means Committee and on the Appropriations Committee.

Fry is a 1979 graduate of the University of Baltimore School of Law. He earned a B.S. in political science from Frostburg State College.