West said that there are some short-term entrepreneurial opportunities that have relatively low bars of entry such as training, deployment of resources toward energy efficiency and weatherizing homes.
“That’s a relatively immediate job where there’s training available at community colleges or some other nonprofit, usually a community assistance program in our respective cities that have been spending time with low-income or elderly people on energy issues,” West said.
Carolyn Green, managing partner of EnerGreen Capital Management L.L.C., said that success does not have to depend on creating something brand new. She suggested that there could be great opportunities in recycling a process or product to turn it into something else other than waste.
Lloyd Yates, president and CEO of Progress Energy Carolinas, noted that when he lectures at community colleges, African Americans make up a very small percentage of the students, which is unfortunate because there are bountiful opportunities in trade crafts, such as pipefitting that might require some retraining or certification. He also noted that it is very important that many more blacks earn engineering, math and science degrees.
Yates, who is working to ensure that a certain percentage of work goes to women and minority-owned businesses in contracts awarded by his firm, said that getting those businesses to the table has been very difficult. Part of the problem is that few respond to requests for proposals, but he believes that problem could be solved partly through joint ventures. But it also involves thinking outside the box.
A company that manufactures doors, for example, might think of itself as a door manufacturing facility rather than a manufacturing company, even though it has the ability to build many different kinds of things, he noted. “Some of this is going to be about African Americans rethinking their businesses and thinking about them in a broader way, consulting some experts and bidding on some of the work they’ve not traditionally bid on,” Yates said.
Christopher Womack of Georgia Power proposed that large energy corporations such as his must also begin to find more creative ways to encourage and increase opportunities for African American participation. That might involve breaking a job down into manageable parts or assisting them in developing joint ventures. Whether we have to break the job down into small pieces, and the whole joint venture scheme.
“Let’s challenge some of the people we’ve been working with for 40 years to work with a diverse supplier and hopefully they can graduate and become a direct supplier to us,” he said. “Once you start doing work with us, it’s a good opportunity that you’re going to have for a long time.”