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Woman wants more opportunity for minority businesses

September 19, 1998|By DAVE McMILLION

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - N. Cerise Hall has been in Berkeley County for only five months, but she has already made some observations about the community, and knows how she wants to deal with it.

Hall believes women-owned and minority-owned businesses in the Eastern Panhandle are not given serious consideration in contract work. To organize minority-owned businesses and help them compete, Hall has organized the Minority and Women's Business Venture.

Hall hopes to build an action plan for minority businesses, an effort that she hopes will include input from local governments.

Hall said the effort is vital given the growth in the county.

"There's a lot of opportunities here for this city, especially being along Interstate 81. I just want to make sure the fair share is given to women and minorities," said Hall, who moved to Martinsburg in April to take an assistant manager's job at the Wal-Mart store on Fox Croft Avenue.

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Berkeley County Commissioner Jim Smith said he welcomes Hall's effort.

Smith said the commissioners have a committee that keeps track of minority-owned businesses. The committee maintains a list of companies that the commissioners can consult when they are considering projects, Smith said.

Smith said one problem is that small businesses often do not understand how the bidding process works in county government.

He said Hall should get in touch with the committee so the groups' efforts can be combined.

"We have a pipeline for that," Smith said.

Jim Tolbert, state president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, agrees that minority-owned businesses do not get their fair share of work.

Another problem, he said, is that minority businesses still have to struggle for loans to start their operations.

"(It's) 1998 and this is still going on," said Tolbert, who lives in Charles Town, W.Va.

Tolbert said President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore recently have emphasized the need to encourage more minorities to start businesses. West Virginia was among the first states to make such a move: The NAACP and the state Small Business Administration recently signed an agreement to encourage more minority-owned businesses, Tolbert said.

Locally, the Small Business Administration at Shepherd College is working to identify as many potential minority entrepreneurs as it can, and offer them start-up plans and financing alternatives, Tolbert said.

But one major contractor in Berkeley County is not convinced there is a problem.

Diane Dailey, who runs W. Harley Miller Contractors Inc. with her husband, Jim, said she has not noticed that minority businesses are having trouble getting work. Dailey said Hall's statements may be "oversimplified" because she does not know how business contacts are made in the area.

Dailey said new business owners can join the chamber of commerce in Martinsburg or the Cumberland Valley Chapter of the Association of Builders and Contractors to make contacts. Many chamber members are women, and their businesses have flourished through the contacts they have made, Dailey said.

"I've not seen situations of exactly what she is talking about," said Dailey, responding to Hall's claims.

Hall said she has identified about seven minority-owned businesses in the Eastern Panhandle, and most of them are in catering, home health care, and beauty and janitorial services.

Hall said she has talked with minorities in the area, and they tell her that they feel they do not have a voice. Hall said she has tried to make contact with some local leaders about her interests, but has been unsuccessful. Hall said she gets the impression that people are not ready for change here.

"The awareness is not there, and that's sad," said Hall, who said she is willing to "shake up things" in the Eastern Panhandle.

Hall said she grew up in Mississippi and Kansas. She has lived in cities such as Atlanta and Chattanooga, Tenn., where she has done diversity training.

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