BRADENTON -- Area black business owners looking for a sympathetic ear in Washington, D.C., may have found one in Rep. Vern Buchanan.
About a dozen members of the year-old Manatee County Black Chamber of Commerce hosted the Longboat Key Republican for a roundtable discussion Monday in Bradenton. Seated at long table at a Wingstop restaurant on First Street in Bradenton, the group hit on one of the congressman's favorite topics: business ownership.
Buchanan, who owns a Sarasota Ford dealership and co-founded a franchise quick-print company in the 1970s, told chamber members that he is no stranger to starting a business. He accepted the group's invitation to the roundtable, he said, because he wants to encourage entrepreneurship and believes the nation's future economy will be built on new business ventures.
Chamber members, including Manatee County NAACP member Rodney Jones, wanted to know how new entrepreneurs can compete in a market they see as dominated by big companies. Jones said the nation's wealthiest individuals and corporations have pulled investment capital out of the market since the Great Recession.
"The poor got poorer and small businesses went out of business," Jones said.
Buchanan, who has noted on numerous occasions that he is a multimillionaire, agreed that "too many people at the top have accumulated the wealth." But, he said, opportunities still exist for new and future business owners. He encouraged chamber members to explore franchise opportunities and to apply for federal small business loans.
Getting in with a franchise company, he said, can be particularly helpful for people who want to be their own bosses, but who don't have the funding to get started.
"They'll help you find the
money," Buchanan said.
Black chamber members already in business had their own concerns. Ernest DuBose II, CEO of a construction company in Sarasota, said he wants to put his energy into finding government contract work. He asked Buchanan whether federal, state and local governments will continue to let those contracts to minority-owned companies in the foreseeable future. "Is it going to increase or decrease as the politics change?" DuBose asked.
Buchanan said he supports minority companies getting a "fair share" of contract work. Construction companies are in a particularly good position.
"I think it's a great time to be in construction," he said.
The roundtable is expected to be the beginning of a relationship between the black chamber and Buchanan. Tarnish Cliatt, the chamber's president and CEO, said the organization needs to have its voice heard in the nation's capital.
"We want to make sure we've invested in having these sorts of relationships built," Cliatt said.
Buchanan agreed, saying that sitting with chamber members "gets me a better opportunity to figure out what I should be doing in Washington to help them locally."
Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7027 or on Twitter @MattAtBradenton.