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Minority community members start businesses in Northwest Arkansas

Minority community members start businesses by Mike Jones | July 28, 2019 at 8:13 a.m. | Updated July 28, 2019 at 3:13 a.m.

Brian Holmes got a phone call 20 years ago saying his services were needed right away in Bentonville. The barber packed up his clippers and moved here from Pennsylvania.

Holmes is black and his former brother-in-law asked him to move to town in 1999.

By the numbers

Numbers are for businesses with racial or ethnic minority ownership across the country in 2015, the most recent Census data available, unless otherwise noted.

w 4.9% increase in firms from 2014 to 2015

w 14.3% of black-owned businesses had been in business for less than two years

w 8.9% of all firms had been in business for less than two years

w $254.0 billion payroll at minority-owned businesses nationwide in 2015

w 8 million people employed

w 25% of women-owned firms owned by racial or ethnic minority

w half of businesses owned by minority women owned by Asians

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

"He had gone to a salon, and he said he had patches in his hair," Holmes said with a laugh.

He has been at the Bentonville Clipper since. He owned the business at one time, but now rents booth space in the shop at the corner of Central Avenue and Walton Boulevard.

Not many local businesses owners were racial or ethnic minorities 20 years ago. More than 91 percent of people living in Benton and Washington counties in 2000 were non-Hispanic white, according to Census data.

Nearly 19% of the nation's 5.6 million businesses in 2016 had owners who were a racial or ethnic minority, according to the U.S. Census Bureau's most recent data available.

Minority-owned firms in the United States increased by almost 6% from 2015 to 2016, according to the survey.

Holmes, who has cut hair since he was a teen, worked hard to build his customer base. About 70 percent of his clients are black. Most work at the Walmart Home Office, close to the Bentonville Clipper, or for vendors who supply the retailer, he said.

Holmes said he has seen more minority-owned barber shops open over the past 20 years.

"At first, I'd go the Supercenter and I didn't see a lot of black people," he said. "I've seen growth in the last 20 years. Not to where I'd like it to be, but it takes time."

His advice to other racial or ethnic minority business owners, or people thinking about taking the leap, is to stay true to their craft, no matter what.

"Put in a 100% effort and that is what you will get out of it. Remain patient," he said. "Dreams don't happen overnight."

Kevin Chaffold also knows the importance of building a strong customer base. He has been doing that for the past year at WaterTree. His Facebook page bills the business as Northwest Arkansas' premium alkaline water source.

"It can be tough if you are not bringing what they want," he said of potential customers.

Chaffold moved from Bastrop, La., to Bentonville 17 years ago to work for Walmart. He worked in the information technology division before he was laid off in April 2017.

He opened WaterTree on June 25, 2018.

He remembers his early days in Bentonville well. The town was smaller and predominately white. Chaffold had lived in a predominately black area in Louisiana.

"There is nothing new in Bastrop. I come here and everything is new," he said. "The people here are very friendly. They are friendly back home, but you can sense the divide."

Chaffold said opening a small business was relatively easy for him. He saved money from his Walmart job and didn't have to go to a bank for financing.

Some small business owners require a helping hand from a business such as Startup Junkie in Fayetteville. The company provides free, one-on-one consulting, events, workshops and programs for entrepreneurs.

Taylor Hasley, a consultant at Startup Junkie, said about 25% of its consulting meetings during its last full grant year and 28% so far this year were what it calls MBEs or minority business enterprises.

The minority business enterprises are made up of racial and ethnic groups, he said. Startup Junkie has a women-owned business enterprise as a separate certification, he said.

Edwin Ortiz started his business, Luncher, last September with the help of Startup Junkie.

Luncher delivers lunch mainly in Bentonville, but is testing his service at the University of Arkansas and at Tyson Foods, Ortiz said.

The company provides customers with a handful of rotating restaurant options to order from each weekday, and only does bulk orders. Some businesses use the service once a month, others use it multiple times a week, he said.

Ortiz worked for Walmart for five years before focusing on his small business full time, he said. Luncher was a side project, but he had to make a choice as the company grew.

Ortiz was born in Mexico City where his father owned a small bus company. His parents were injured in a vehicle accident, and he took over running the company in their absence when he was 12, he said. At 15, he and his family moved to Bentonville. He attended college at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, before returning to the area.

Ortiz, now 30, said racial and ethnic minorities might find opening a business easy based on their life history.

"Many have left their country, their language," he said. "Opening a business is not that scary."

He encouraged aspiring minority business owners to use all available resources.

"There are a ton of them out there," he said. "Connect with people. Figure out what the need is and then provide it."

Ortiz said a new networking group, the Hispanic Business Meetup, had its first meeting July 15 in Bentonville. More than 40 people said they were interested in attending in a recent Facebook post about the meeting.

Another resource for entrepreneurs is a partnership between the Greater Bentonville Area Chamber of Commerce and Venture Noire. The collaboration will support in the launch, development and growth of companies led by diverse community members, according to the chamber.

Margot Lemaster, executive director of EngageNWA, believes minority-owned business will lead to more diverse growth in the area. EngageNWA is funded by the Walmart Foundation and affiliated with the Northwest Arkansas Council. It seeks to "broaden inclusion and engagement, and to strengthen the regional economy by positioning Northwest Arkansas as a community of engaged global talent," according to its website.

"As more minority-owned businesses open in the region, more people will move here and open more businesses," Lemaster said. "Our economy will strengthen, and we will be better able to compete for talent. Meanwhile, our communities will grow in diversity and cultural richness."

NW News on 07/28/2019

Print Headline: Charting a new course


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