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Virtual event will honor outstanding OAME partners, feature panel discussion celebrating the theme of 'Diversity is Practiced'

PMG FILE PHOTO - Oregon Association of Minority Entrepreneurs will replace its annual Trad Show and Luncheon with a free virtual event for 10 a.m. to noon on Oct. 8.When the Oregon Association Minority Entrepreneurs began planning their Annual Trade Show and Awards Luncheon in October of last year, they had no way of foreseeing what lay ahead in 2020. The theme they picked just seemed to feel right at the time.

Nearly one year later, in light of the economic impact of COVID-19 on businesses and the call for greater social justice and equity as a result of the Black Lives Matter movement, that theme – Diversity is Practiced – is more fitting than ever.

The theme will be woven throughout the OAME Annual Conference, which will be held Oct. from 10 a.m. to noon as a virtual Zoom event. The event serves as a temporary replacement for the trade show and awards luncheon that OAME usually holds each May.

The OAME Trade Show and Awards Luncheon have become staples of Portland's business scene. The in-person events each year serve three purposes. Emerging small businesses and those owned by minorities, women and service-disabled veterans have a chance to network and share leads. Larger businesses and government agencies, meanwhile, are able to meet smaller businesses to create new partnerships and opportunities. The event also serves as OAME's main - and only - fundraiser, garnering money to fuel the organization's operations. Funding for last year's event, for example, has allowed OAME to provide much needed technical assistance to entrepreneurs as they work to pivot and adjust their business and marketing plans to survive the economic impacts of the pandemic.

While this year's event is free, the sponsors have remained on board with their support, even as OAME made the difficult decision earlier this year to move the date for the event to October. The hope was that the organization would be able to have an in-person event. With concerns about large group events still running high as summer ended, OAME's leadership made the decision to move the event to a virtual platform.

While staff at OAME, like many in the business world, have become more skilled at Zoom meetings, an online conference the size and scope of the awards luncheon is a new endeavor. So, the organization is tapping assistance from partners with expertise in virtual events.

The pandemic may have delayed the annual event, but it won't change the purpose or the community approach, according to Sam Brooks, OAME's founder and Chairman of the Board The event will fit within a two-hour timeframe, but dedicated attendees will still find enough to make the conference feel familiar. The event will kick off with an opener from Brooks, followed by the presentation of awards to individuals, companies and groups that have been outstanding OAME partners. Recipients this year include U.S. Bank, Multnomah County, Zana Construction, and Otak-DAY CPM. The Chairman's Award, selected personally by Brooks, will go to two individuals: OAME President Jorge Guerra and Bill Prows, OAME's director of business development, events and youth programs.

Once the awards portion wraps up, the event will move into a panel discussion that will feature four to five participants. Ozzie Gonzalez will return to serve as moderator for the event.

Despite the changes due to COVID-19, one thing will remain consistent during the 2020 event. The event theme pays tribute to OAME's philosophy of "Everyone's in, Nobody's Out," which creates a sense of community that even a pandemic can't extinguish.

"Even though the event may take a different shape, it will still promote a sense of community and advance the message that 'Diversity is Practiced," Brooks said. "That message is so important to OAME's mission to promote and develop minority entrepreneurship and economic development through partnerships throughout Oregon and Southwest Washington."

For more information about the event and registration, visit OAME's website.

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