Amid the activities of the West Coast Expo, state Sen. Curren Price (D-Los Angeles), who chairs the Senate Select Committee on Procurement, convened a panel of state elected officials to discuss how small, minority-owned businesses could fully participate in state contracting and procurement opportunities.

The four-man panel also featured Jerome Horton, Chair of the California Board of Equalization, Assemblyman Isadore Hall III (D-Compton), and Assemblyman Warren Furutani (D-Gardena). Each provided advice and assurances that could benefit local small businesses by linking them to state programs.

“Because of Prop. 209, we cannot have programs for specific ethnic groups so most of my legislation targets equal access to capital, contacts, and procurement opportunities,” says Price.

“We have a responsibility, as elected officials, to be vigilant and make sure those programs are in place.”

The panelists pointed out that California has to do a better job of educating, and training young people which will create a more employable local workforce. However, it was pointed out that the private sector must acknowledge that in the current economy its troubles are international rather than just local scope. Consequently, the workforce needs to reflect the diversity of this state.

With unemployment at 9.1 percent nationally and 11.8 percent in California, the panelists also agreed that a more diverse workforce and more equitable participation of minority-owned small businesses could revive the listless job market.

Horton, of the Board of Equalization, says he supports affirmative action in business, because too often minorities are not present at the negotiating table.

“As leaders, we are in a position to advocate not only for government policy changes that include diversity but also for those same changes in private companies,” Horton said. “Companies are making record profits even as they lay off workers. They have more reserve income than ever before. I am encouraging them to use their reserve income to create internship programs; use the state’s workforce investment funds, as well as tax credits.”

On the heels of this nation’s worse recession in decades, members are deeply concerned about state and local government as well as the private sector’s unwillingness to become more inclusive in dealing with minority vendors.

Separate from these internal dynamics is the state’s ineffectiveness in marketing internationally, especially to those countries not in Europe or Asia.

The state’s capacity to be involved in an international marketplace has been diminished due to budget cutbacks that forced the shutdown of the offices responsible for promoting California internationally, said the panelists.

“As Americans, we should all have a place at the table relative to economic development,” said Assemblyman Furutani. “As we examine who is in the room during the discussions about economic development in California, (we see) there are no people of color representing the private business community. It is matter of re-examination of what California is about.”

Al Washington, executive director Africa USA Chamber of Commerce, is certain that what the state can do is be more aggressive.

“The state needs to create programs that help small businesses build their capacity to get involved with international marketplace,” said Washington. “They also market this state as a place for foreign investment. There is money in places like Africa, the Caribbean, as well as Central and South America, if the state would provide incentives to come here.”