Arkansas’ new MBDA Center and Small Business Administration inks new pact to aid minority businesses
The state’s first Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) Business Center and the U.S. Small Business Administration forged a key partnership on Sept. 15 at the headquarters of Communities Unlimited (CU), the rural Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) headquartered in Fayetteville.
The U.S. Department of Commerce first announced in September 2022 that CU would be one of six nonprofit financial institutions across the U.S. to operate a new MBDA Center. At the time, CU’s director of entrepreneurship, Cynthia Terry, was selected to head the new center.
Under the $1 trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure and Jobs Act approved by Congress in November 2021, the MBDA was made a permanent federal agency dedicated solely to supporting minority-owned businesses, enterprises, and entrepreneurs. It was also given over $110 million in new annual funding through 2025.
Before the law was passed, the federal Department of Commerce sub-agency had no permanent budget or spending authority to fund its 26 MBDA centers across the U.S. However, the department awarded $2.1 million to open new MBDA Centers in Arkansas, Indiana, Oregon, South Carolina, Utah and Wisconsin. The law also mandates the MBDA to expand its influence and reach to support the 9.7 million minority business enterprises (MBEs) across the U.S.
The funding also includes grants totaling $2.62 million to fund the 26 existing business centers and bolster their procurement services, which will help expand MBEs’ access to federal contracts. Officials said that funding will support the Biden Administration’s goal to increase the share of contracts going to small and disadvantaged businesses by 50% by 2025.
As the director of the nation’s newest MBDA Center, CU’s Cynthia Terry told Arkansas Black Vitality that the agency’s primary focus is serving mature MBEs with more significant revenues, operating budgets, and experienced staff with growth opportunities through contracting, partnerships, joint ventures and subcontracting. The center will provide business assessment, strategic growth planning, financial forecasts and analysis, business consulting, strategic partner referrals and more, she said.
“Our goal is to build an ecosystem to grow minority businesses across the state of Arkansas,” said Terry, A Memphis native who has been managing Tennessee entrepreneurship programs for CU since June 2004.
At the recent event in Fayetteville, Terry and Adriene Brown, the state’s new SBA District Director, signed a strategic partnership alliance to share resources to help minority businesses grow and capitalize on new opportunities. “Our joint effort will help deliver on our commitment to create opportunities for small businesses by expanding access to capital,” said Brown, who was named Arkansas’ first Black female SBA Director in May.
Besides Arkansas, Communities Unlimited has operations in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas. As a U.S. Treasurycertified CDFI since 2001, CU and other such mission-driven institutions like Little Rock-based Southern Bancorp, People’s Trust, and Arkansas Capital Corp. take a market-based approach to supporting poor communities. As of February 2023, there were 43 CDFIs operating in Arkansas, according to the U.S. Treasury