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Small, minority, women business owners learn tricks of the trade

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Dec. 15--For business owners interested in landing government contracts or working with Toyota and its suppliers, the convention center was the place to be Wednesday.

More than 1,800 business owners braved the rain to attend the fifth annual Small, Minority and Women Business Owners Conference at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center. The event was hosted by Bexar County and the city of San Antonio.

"It's a good opportunity to meet buyers and the people with the agencies we want to work with," said Sherry Harvey, a project manager with Oak Hill Technology Inc., an Austin-based business service provider.

The company already provides data entry services for San Antonio's Metropolitan Health District, but Harvey hopes to gain a greater share of local government contracting dollars in the future.

Companies with that mind-set fit in well at the conference, said Renee Watson, who manages the county's Small, Minority and Women-owned Business Enterprise program.

"If you're happy getting the same paycheck every week, then maybe this isn't for you, but if you want to grow your business, attending a conference like this is critical," she said.

This year's sessions included panels on getting capital and doing business with local governments and state and federal agencies.

One session focused on teaching business owners how to find opportunities working with Toyota and its suppliers, something that's not as easy as it might seem, said Thomas Shipps, who handles diversity business development for Johnson Controls Inc., a Toyota supplier working on auto interiors.

"Minority business owners, women business owners and small-business owners sometimes have a problem getting into our process," he said. "Just because you're a minority business, a small business or a woman-owned business doesn't mean that you're guaranteed to get a contract. It's really just icing on the cake."

Johnson Controls has yet to map out its purchasing plans for its San Antonio operations, but Shipps has some advice for business owners interested in working with suppliers such as his: Make sure the service or product matches the company's needs and check out its Web site to learn about its procurement process.


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