President Ronald Reagan declared the first Minority Enterprise Development Week in 1982, said James Lee, board chair for the Western North Carolina MED Week, at this year’s award ceremony on Sept. 29. The first local MED Week was held in 1983, making this year’s event the 33rd annual celebration of minority business success in WNC.
In addition to MED Week, the MED Committee of WNC board and volunteers have also sponsored the Bringing it Home and Women’s Business Conferences this year.
In Ferguson Auditorium at A-B Tech, the MED Week board announced the winners of this year’s awards for outstanding minority businesses and their supporters. A meal of barbecue and fixings that preceded the awards was prepared by Alex Hamilton of Pop’s Grits and Eggs, who told the crowd his Maggie Valley diner is the only minority-owned business in the town. Mountain BizWorks provided him with financing and support to launch a mobile catering business in addition to the diner, Hamilton said.
Jonathan and Namurah Blakely of Quality Janitorial Group received the Advocate Award, which recognizes a local community member who embodies the spirit and mission of MED Week to promote the success of minority businesses in the region.
Board member Duane Adams of the A-B Tech Small Business Center recognized Self-Help Credit Union as the MED Week Lender of the Year, noting that, in the past year, Self-Help provided 41 percent of its WNC financing to minorities, and 21 percent of its business financing to minority-owned businesses.
The Emerging Business award goes to businesses that have been in existence for less than two years, said board member Zurilma McKeown of the Carolina Small Business Development Fund (formerly The Support Center). MED Week recognized Andrea Wright and Benita Chambers for their success in starting My Sisters and I, a catering and event planning company.
The board also recognized Elle Bradley of The Little People as an Emerging Business of the Year.
Cherokee retailers General and Ute Grant of Traditional Hands won the retail entrepreneur of the year award for their success in launching both their first retail store in 2013 in Cherokee and, this year, a second location which includes a gallery and silversmithing workshop where customers can specify the materials and details of authentic, locally made Cherokee jewelry. General Grant explained that the second location will also soon include a unique craft school which will serve young people with dyslexia, ADHD and other learning differences. “The school is not just for native people,” said Grant, a member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and a craftsman who’s been making jewelry for over 40 years. “It’s for all people who would benefit from hands-on learning and networking with artists and professionals.”
“I never worked a day in my life,” Grant said of his success. “I love what I do.”
Other winners included:
- Christy Long of Natievologie for manufacturing
- Painting contractor Alejandro Hernandez Herrera of King of Kings Painting for construction
- Etta Robinson of Emanuel’s Corner Dance and Music in Hendersonville for community support business
- Ana Ortega of Asheville Housekeeping for service business
- Andrianna Chavela of Hola Carolina! for media business
The final award, the Phyllis Sherrill Entrepreneur of the Year award, is “given to the business that has demonstrated a resilience to remain successful despite all the odds. A business that has grown over time and made a name for themselves,” said Lee as he declared Johnnie Grant of the Urban News the winner.
The Urban News, said Grant, was founded to “give a voice to those who have something to say but have been disempowered by the mainstream community.” Grant thanked the many community supporters she said had been critical to maintaining her publication over the years: the Carolina Small Business Development Fund, A-B Tech, Mountain Housing Opportunities, the city of Asheville, Buncombe County, the Buncombe County Department of Health and Human Services, Mission Health System, the Boys and Girls Clubs and local Greek organizations.