Democratic National Convention 2012 Notebook: Minority businesses seek convention opportunities, launch website



“I am energized by the amount of interest there is in the convention,” Mayor Anthony Foxx told me on Tuesday. The inclusive answer came after I asked him his thoughts on the Carolina Regional Minority Partnership Coalition, minority businesses working for a chance at opportunities the 2012 Democratic National Convention will bring to Charlotte.

Foxx said he “applauds the effort” to create any access points for businesses owned by women, minorities and the disabled, and said the local host committee has staff dedicated to incorporating support for local businesses.

When I talked with civil rights attorney and coalition chair James Ferguson, he was enthusiastic about the support of Foxx, former Mayor Harvey Gantt and U.S. Congressman Mel Watt of North Carolina, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus. “We are lobbying on behalf of minorities, to make sure goals are set and met,” said the 68-year-old Ferguson. “We’re in the best possible position to make it happen.”

Ferguson and Charlotte business owner Colette Forrest had the same idea after the Democratic National Committee announced Charlotte as the site of the 2012 convention — and the Carolina Regional Minority Partnership Coalition was born. “We wanted to see minorities come together to be a voice, to be a force, to be heard,” Ferguson told me last week in his historic Excelsior Club on Charlotte’s west side. The occasion was the launch of the coalition’s website. It includes a member directory, a clock ticking down to the convention’s start date and information about the group, which includes members from North and South Carolina, from Winston-Salem to Columbia. (Membership is $50.)

“We’re not official,” Ferguson said. “But we’re doing outreach and we are going to make sure that the Democratic convention is doing what it’s supposed to do.”

Forrest, coalition vice chair, has long been vocal about the issue. When we spoke after a Charlotte Chamber-sponsored DNC event in June, she told me her concern that the convention would “play fair” when making business opportunities available. Forrest, of People's Voice Management Group Inc., a small planning and marketing firm, questioned Steve Kerrigan, the CEO of the 2012 Democratic National Convention, who assured her of the DNC’s commitment.

"The DNCC is committed to creating an open and inclusive environment that maximizes opportunities for all local businesses,” said Kristie Greco, Democratic National Convention Committee communications director, on Tuesday when I asked about the coalition’s concerns. “That's why, when we negotiated the master contract with the host committee in March, we required the creation of a vendor directory, an online tool to help national organizations connect with local Charlotte businesses in order to meet their DNC-related needs. Businesses participating in the vendor directory will have the opportunity to list demographic information if they choose.”

Umar Riggs, owner of Riggs Marketing, created the Carolina Regional Minority Partnership Coalition website and is the group’s public relations and media chair. Riggs, 36, whose wife owns Tracy Riggs Salon, told me at the launch that the next step “is to make sure we stay in contact with the DNC.”

A line on the site points out, “CRMPC is not guaranteeing contracts from the 2012 DNC but we will provide you with timely information and access to the process.” Ron Goodwin, who has owned restaurants in New Orleans, Washington, D.C., Winston-Salem and Charlotte, understands that nothing is certain. “Let’s just hope that something happens,” he said.

Mary C. Curtis, an award-winning Charlotte, N.C.-based journalist, is a contributor to The Root, NPR, Creative Loafing and the Nieman Watchdog blog. Her “Keeping It Positive” segment airs Wednesdays at 7:10 on TV’s Fox News Rising Charlotte, and she was national correspondent for Politics Daily. Follow her on Twitter.

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