Articulate October 2017

Growth for Minority Businesses in Greater Gainesville

Written By: Chris Eversole

Over the past two years, professional groups and city government have forged new ways to help small and minority businesses in Greater Gainesville.

Both Gainesville Black Professionals and the Latin American Business Alliance started in 2015. At the same time, Torey Alston began working as the City of Gainesville’s equal opportunity director – and expanded the city’s assistance to minority businesses.

Virginia Grant is the executive director of Gainesville Black Professionals. “When I came here from Fort Lauderdale five years ago, I found it difficult to connect in the business community,” she said. “It’s a wonderful town once you break through, but it’s hard at first.”

Grant began making connections by participating in the City of Gainesville’s Citizens’ Academy. “I found that people in city government were open and that they wanted to be involved with the black community,” Grant said.

Grant began Gainesville Black Professionals by organizing a gala as her main activity the first year.

After the gala proved successful, she began holding quarterly mixers, conducting workshops on business topics and producing video segments highlighting black business owners and professionals.

On one segment of “Hello Gainesville,” she interviews Matt Bowman, owner of Micanopy Winery. He relates that he started the winery after retiring from the Air Force.

“I had a passion and excitement for having a place that reflects North Central Florida and also reflects the African-American participation in wines and in agriculture and in land ownership,” Bowman said in the interview.

Black professionals benefit from meeting with each other, Grant said. “In most jobs, there are only one or two other people who look like you,” she stated. “It’s important to have a sense of connection.”

“A woman who attended one of the organization’s mixers for the first time was surprised that 175 people attended,” Grant said. “She said that she had no idea how many black professionals there were in Gainesville. She was excited to see the depth and quality of people she met.”


Latin American Business Alliance

Dwight L. Hulse, an international business consultant and certified public accountant who is from Belize originally, wanted to find ways for Latin American business owners and professionals to help each other expand their network and succeed in business.

He conducted a planning workshop that developed goals for what became the Latin American Business Alliance (LABA).

The first goal was developing a directory of Latin American businesses and professionals. The business alliance has created a database organically – adding one business at a time, and it plans to have the directory available online soon, Hulse said.

The second goal, providing guidance on how to start and run a business, led to holding networking and training events, such as a monthly “lunch and learn” event with guest speakers on topics such as budgeting, digital marketing, computer security and risk management.

David Flores, a member of LABA’s executive committee who is originally from Ecuador, commented on the luncheons: “I came to Gainesville to get my master’s at UF, and I then went into my software development business,” he said. “I didn’t know many Hispanics, but I’ve met a lot of people through the luncheons.”

On the other hand, members often help each other expand their business connections, he said. “People tend to hang out with people of a common language and culture” he said. “They go to a Spanish-speaking doctor and go to Latin restaurants. In the alliance, we help each other expand our connections.”

Another goal was to work with city and county government which ensures that people who speak only Spanish have a translator available to them. “We’ve made progress with this, and we’re still working on it,” Hulse said.


City’s Outreach

Alston, the city’s equal opportunity director, has helped expand the number of businesses certified as small businesses or ones owned by service disabled veterans.

In expanding the list to 300, Alston has reached out to minority-owned businesses.

He worked with the city commission to establish policies regarding the small and service disabled veterans business certification.

Those policies now require that departments obtain three bids for contracts between $5,000 and $50,000 and that one of those bids be from a business with the certification.

For bids over $50,000, such businesses receive an additional 5 percent of the total points used in ranking bidders.

The Equal Opportunity Office holds training sessions on topics such as bidding, working with the U.S. Small Business Administration, business planning, marketing and financial planning.

“Gainesville is Open for Business,” Alston said. “We’re looking for businesses that are ready, willing and able to work with us.”

Gainesville Black Professionals nominated eight men with its Men of Vision and Purpose Award. The winner will be announced at the organization’s annual gala, which will be held at 7 p.m. October 14 at the C Bar Ranch in Alachua.

The men being honored are the following:

  • Malcom Askew of Team Dynamo Keller Williams Realty
  • Dr. Jude Alcide of Alcide Chiropractic
  • Michael Cox of Black Men United, Inc.
  • Jamel Cheesborough, a firefighter with the City of Gainesville
  • Jaron Jones, founder of Self Narrate
  • Ryan Jones of Be A Better Father
  • Author Kamal Latham
  • Marcus Robinson of Voya Financial Advisors

Contact Information

Gainesville Black Professionals



Latin American Business Alliance



Office of Equal Opportunity

(352) 334-5051


CHRIS EVERSOLE has been a keen observer of business, government and culture in the Greater Gainesville Area while living here over the past two decades. His experience includes work with the University of Florida and Alachua County Government. He also has been a journalist and public relations professional in the Tampa Bay and Sarasota-Bradenton areas, as well as in Michigan, Ohio and New York.

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