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Got MBE status?

DiversityI founded my consulting firm, Moti International, in 2005 and never felt the need to define my firm as a Minority Business Enterprise. Until last year, when I was repeatedly asked whether Moti was a certified MBE; the question came from prospective government and private-sector clients alike.

So during the winter holidays last year, I took the time to complete Maryland’s MBE program application as the sole owner of my small business. The paper submission I filed in December 2012 was more than 100 pages! The application process was rigorous, including requests for additional documentation, an office visit and a hearing before the Minority Business Enterprise Advisory Committee.

Last month, I received notice of Moti’s minority status from the Maryland Department of Transportation’s Office of Minority Business Enterprise. Moti International is now certified as No. 13-390, an official Asian American woman-owned small business.

Having been awarded state and local contracts without the certification in the past, I wasn’t sure what real value it would generate. I assumed most organizations would not have difficulty meeting their minority supplier goals with the high rate of diversity in Maryland. Hispanics, African-Americans and Asians represented 45.3 percent of the population in 2010 and Maryland is expected to be a majority minority state within 10 years.

Imagine my surprise when I learned that Asian American women-owned business were awarded less than 1 percent of the value of the state’s MBE procurement contracts in fiscal year 2012. In total, female business owners of African, Hispanic and Asian descents were awarded less than 5 percent of the value of state’s MBE contracts.

Since I know so many successful minority women in business, I don’t know where the challenge lies. Is the minority business community not motivated enough to get certified and go after government contracts? Is the state not receptive to new businesses?

Wherever the disconnect exists, the market potential is hard to ignore. In 2012, the state awarded over $1 billion in MBE procurement contracts. And the opportunity will continue to grow after the state government announced last month it was increasing its goals for minority inclusion in state contracting from 25 percent to 29 percent for fiscal years 2014 and 2015.

To help meet these goals, the state is seeking to foster a stronger base of minority businesses. Governor Martin O’Malley’s Office of Community Initiative is hosting its 7th annual Asian-American Business Conference in October to educate minority-owned business enterprises in developing and growing their businesses.

As a member of the planning committee of the conference, I highly encourage all businesses to participate – it’s a great opportunity for MBE firms and the organizations that want to do business with them.