Dr. Eve Hall, president and CEO of the Milwaukee Urban League, accepts the Community Economic Development Award for Minority Business Development at MARKETPLACE 2017.

MARKETPLACE, the Governor’s Conference on Minority Business Development, continues to grow with each passing year. The 2017 conference, held at Potawatomi Hotel and Conference Center on December 13 and 14, broke previous attendance records once again.

“You are the backbone of what makes Wisconsin go and what makes Wisconsin grow,” Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) Secretary and CEO Mark R. Hogan told the audience of business owners during the awards luncheon. “Hats off to you and your organizations.”

The two-day event includes workshops on business topics, a networking reception, an expo hall, scheduled meetings with buyers for government agencies and private companies, and a breakfast and luncheon where awards are presented. For the past four years, the event has also included a half-day Small Business Academy with educational sessions and speakers specifically addressing topics related to starting businesses and sustaining them through the early stages.

The state’s minority chambers of commerce are key partners in both the success of the annual event and in supporting the overall success of small businesses across Wisconsin.

To further aid these organizations in their work, Governor Scott Walker announced that four of the chambers—the African American Chamber of Commerce of Wisconsin, the American Indian Chamber of Commerce of Wisconsin, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Wisconsin and the Hmong Wisconsin Chamber of Commerce—would receive a total of $1.475 million in grant funding to support initiatives such as business training workshops, financial awareness programs, assistance with securing financing, networking opportunities and one-on-one mentoring.

Governor Walker also provided updates on the Foxconn project and the Supply Chain Marketplace website the company will be using to help it find the many contractors it will need to complete the $10 billion project. He urged all the businesses in the room to consider making listings on the website: “We’re going to need businesses that haven’t even started yet to be part of this.”

Governor Walker presented the following awards to companies during the luncheon:

Also at the luncheon, Dr. Eve M. Hall, president and CEO of the Milwaukee Urban League and former president and CEO of the African American Chamber of Commerce of Wisconsin, received the Community Economic Development Award for Minority Business Development.

Godwin Amegashie, who retired this year after 18 years of state service and helped to create the Wisconsin Supplier Diversity Program, received the Community Economic Development Award for State Diversity Development and Advocacy. He reminded listeners that “every business starts out as a small business” and said, “All of you in this room have to be successful in order for us to say Wisconsin is successful.”

Linda Graves, vice president and director of diversity and community affairs with Gilbane Building Company, received the Community Economic Development Award for Corporate Diversity Development and Advocacy. “Milwaukee, we’re headed to a new dynamic, and I thank you for including me as a part of this,” Graves said.

Mark Murphy, president and CEO of the Green Bay Packers, was honored with the Mentor-Protégé Business Development Award. (Murphy was unable to attend, so another member of the Packers organization accepted the award on his behalf.)

The U.S. Small Business Administration named Robert Wangard of Cartridge Savers Inc. the 8A Graduate of the Year and Ralph Hollmon of the Milwaukee Urban League this year’s Minority Small Business Champion awardee.

State Contract Awards were presented to Nuvo Construction Company Inc., of Milwaukee, and Oneida Total Integrated Enterprises, of Madison.

At the reception on Wednesday evening, Menominee Tribal Enterprises was honored with Legacy Recognition for 109 years in business. One of the forest products company’s most recent products is making the floors for the new Milwaukee Bucks arena.

Three companies received Legacy Recognition for more than 50 years in business: T&N Tire Service, Benavides Concrete Construction and Malone Plumbing, whose owner passed away this year.

The breakfast on Thursday featured two small business success stories:

  • Jessica Dragan, owner of Milwaukee-based Spa Massage on the Go, recalled how her conference attendance and participation in buyer meetings at MARKETPLACE over the past three years have helped her make connections with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) that she is hopeful will ultimately lead to a contract to provide massage services to veterans. She said attendance at MARKETPLACE also connected her to the Wisconsin Procurement Institute, which helped her make her business idea into a reality by guiding her through steps from making business cards to getting certified as a woman-owned and veteran-owned business.
  • Clifton Phelps, cofounder and president of Milwaukee-based JCP Construction, encouraged listeners to take advantage of the structured elements of MARKETPLACE, such as workshops and buyer meetings—but also the informal networking opportunities that can open doors for their business: “It just takes a conversation.”