Written by Phil Cerroni
By Alice Canham
A capacity crowd of approximately 330 small business representatives converged on Irving’s Convention Center Aug. 2 to take part in the Governor’s 2012 North Texas Small Business Forum and Expo. Billed as an event focused on “Helping Small Business Grow Revenue”, the Forum offered training segments in accessing government contracts, tapping the growing Hispanic market and engaging with the Texas Workforce Commission.
Don Williams, Director of Business Retention and Expansion for the Irving Las Colinas Chamber of Commerce, called the event an unqualified success.
“We’ve been planning this since January,” Williams said. “We worked closely with the Small Business Development Centers, the Governor’s office, the Texas Workforce Commission, and with Work Force Solutions in both Dallas and Tarrant counties.”
Williams credited partnerships, promotion and good programming for the Forum’s success, adding, “Having Nolan Ryan as a keynote speaker doesn’t hurt, either.”
Indeed, the winning pitch for most participants was the chance to hear from the CEO and President of the Texas Rangers Baseball Club.
Ryan told the group that he knew the day would come when he was no longer able to play baseball.
“I would do things in the off season to try to prepare myself,” he said. “I was fortunate to play a long time and meet a lot of people that could open the door. Getting involved in the community, and getting to know the business leaders, and trying to learn what I could paid big dividends for me.”
The appreciative crowd included State Representative Linda Harper Brown, Irving City Manager Tommy Gonzales and Mayor Beth Van Duyne, who recognized that the City needed to invest not only in infrastructure but also in the community’s marketing, advertising and business community.
“Our small businesses in Irving really are our life blood,” she said. “Seventy percent of our tax base is in our business community, so we must be responsive to [their] needs.”
Dr. Kent Smith with Sleep Dallas was one of the small business owners targeted by the Forum. While his firm doesn’t count on doing business with the government, he did see a lot of value in learning how to access the Hispanic market.
“I was impressed,” Smith said after the presentation, which featured J. R. Gonzales, a noted expert in Hispanic market trends and past president of both the U.S. and Austin Hispanic Chambers of Commerce.
“There were a few things I didn’t know – for example, that the Hispanic population on average is ten years younger than other demographics. That youth makes them more attuned to Internet capabilities, and they’re very savvy, even more so than other young people.”
For his part, Gonzales challenged the attendees to examine their perception about Hispanics.
“Understand the market,” Gonzales said. “You need to think about hiring Hispanics who will represent your business to our community, because we won’t do business with people who don’t know us.”
Representatives from the Texas Workforce Commission were also on hand to inform participants of the many programs to support Dallas and Tarrant County employers who claim fewer than 100 employees. Their initiatives, free or at small charge, have impacted 18,000 Dallas County employers, 350,000 job seekers and 5,000 trainees.
With something to inform everyone, the Governor’s 2012 North Texas Small Business Forum may be just a start, as Don Williams reflected on changes they might consider in the future.
“It’s hard for a small business owner to get away for a whole day,” Williams said. “Maybe we’ll have expanded lunch sessions in the future and see how that works.”
Meanwhile, though, he and the Irving Las Colinas Chamber of Commerce are pleased with the post-event surveys they’ve received from participants. And one other thing, according to Williams: “Representatives from the Governor’s Office and from TWC made a point of telling me it was one of the best forums they’ve had anywhere in the state of Texas.”