Some came to learn; some came to share what they know. But everyone who attended the inaugural Cape Fear Region MED Week event Tuesday came also to make connections.
National Minority Enterprise Development (MED) Week was launched in 1982 to “recognize the outstanding achievements of minority businesses and to honor those corporations and financial institutions that support minority business development,” according to organizers. This year, University of North Carolina Wilmington convened the first MED event in Wilmington. Chancellor Jose Sartarelli gave the event's opening remarks, and Wilmington mayor Bill Saffo presented a proclamation from the city and added his own encouragement to attendees.
“We have some big projects coming to Wilmington,” he said, noting transportation improvements in particular, “and we want to do business with people in the community.”
Connecting minority-owned businesses with potential customers was one of the day’s objectives. Several large employers – Corning, GE Hitachi and Duke Energy – were among the companies represented at the event. Small companies were present as well. Jennifer Lancaster, one of the day’s panelists, owns Stonehenge Building, a small construction business that has managed to land contracts with big entities and was there to share her experiences.
The keynote speaker was Kevin Keatts, UNCW’s head basketball coach, who offered his audience lessons he had learned in coaching that would apply equally to management in any situation.
“I run the basketball department just like a business,” he said, adding also that he approaches his job as if he were on a one-day contract and his future business depended on his performance that day.
The keynote talk, held at UNCW’s Warwick Center, drew about 100 attendees, a mix of small business owners, entrepreneurs and business resource providers.
“This event will only grow in years to come,” said Doug Tarble, director of the Small Business Center at Cape Fear Community College. “It’s a fantastic start. For me at the Small Business Center, I’m getting more questions from people who would not otherwise know about us. The relevance today is significant.”
Kelly Williams, community outreach staffer at the Wilmington YWCA, had two reasons for attending the MED Week gathering. In her role at the YWCA, she was eager to network with small business owners and community and city officials who might be interested in spurring change in the community. As an artist and aspiring entrepreneur looking to start an events and programming business for arts organizations, she said, “I want to learn what to do.”
For most attendees, the MED event’s biggest benefit was the opportunity to meet and talk with others.
“I’m here for the networking opportunities and connections,” said Valerie Lingo, manager of Jamaica’s Comfort Zone restaurant.