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The Oregon Association of Minority Entrepreneurs' Trade Show & Conference will be virtual again this year, in a woke and COVID world.

COURTESY PHOTO: OAME - Sam Brooks, founder of Brooks Staffing, and founder and chairman of OAME's board of directors, addresses the crowd at the 2019 conference. This year's conference will be virtual.The Oregon Association of Minority Entrepreneurs' Trade Show & Conference will be virtual for the second year running to safeguard against the spread of COVID-19.

The event is usually a 1,000-person trade show at the Oregon Convention center, with a sit-down lunch, inspirational videos, and awards presented to those who have helped minority entrepreneurs — particularly in the construction industry.

This year, participants will be logging in from their desks and watching. The trade show side will consist of live Zoom video conferencing instead of just reading boilerplate web pages and filling in contact forms.

"We coordinated with the governor's office, and the recommendations have been insane, so after conferring with everyone, we said let's just make it virtual," said Sam Brooks, founder of Brooks Staffing, as well as being Founder and Chairman of OAME's Board.

Nobody's out

Brooks told the Business Tribune the target audience is the same for every OAME meeting: "Everybody's in, nobody's out…Small businesses, major corporations, public agencies. OAME's mission statement is to promote and develop entrepreneurship and economic development for ethnic minorities in Oregon and Southwest Washington. That's the basics, and we've been doing it for years. This is conference is number 34."

Brooks said the event is a way to recognize the people who have been successful and have supported small businesses and what they have done for minority-, women- and veteran-owned businesses.

"For instance, we are a microlender," Brooks said. "We have done $15 million in microloans, no more than $50,000 each, and we'll talk about how well that's working."

He mentions that Nike is on the advisory board, along with Multnomah County and the City of Portland.

Instead of the usual 130 booths or tables at the Oregon Convention Center, this time, there will be 126 chat rooms using Zoom video conferencing. All the big contractors show up, such as Hoffman and Skanska, and multiple subcontractors, which are more likely to employ or be owned by minorities.

"In the beginning, when I went to meetings of major contractors, I might be the only person of color in the room — and the room has three or 400 people."

There's a six-second rule at OAME's morning meetings, where everyone gets six seconds to say their name and business. This helps with networking. They will try to replicate this on Zoom at the virtual conference.

OAME encourages small businesses to run its events.

"We don't let the major corporations or the public agencies serve on the board of directors," Brooks said. "They serve on the advisory board. They look at what we're doing and talk about how they can support success in that area."

Brooks's experience goes back to being National Chair for small business in the United States from 1986 to 1989, during the Reagan years. He learned that it's better to let the small businesses run this kind of public-private interface themselves rather than let the big players take over with paid marketing departments and attorneys.

"When we say ethnic minorities, we are very inclusive: Everyone's in and no one's out," he told the Oregon Public Health Institute in 2013. "Regardless of their ethnicity, their gender, their sexual orientation, their veteran's status, or any of those things that historically are thought of as things that are exempt, we are inclusive of all of them. …

Woke world

The pandemic came along at the same time as the George Floyd reaction, and a lot of companies got woke very quickly and began talking louder about diversity, equity and inclusion. Did the pandemic aid or undercut that corporate movement?

"Depending on whether this was something new for you, and you were trying to look like you were doing something, and actually trying to do something, (maybe). But in our case, having been around for 34 years, our people were already there. Our theme at every meeting, two meetings a month, is everybody's in, and nobody's out. And you can't elevate yourself by stepping on somebody else."

He said national organizations have looked to Oregon over the years, and especially in the last year.

"They say 'Oh, if everybody could just do what OAME is doing, we would be a lot better in this country because we were already doing that before George Floyd."

Typically other states and cities will have a Black chamber of commerce or an Asian one, but not the broadly inclusive outlook like OAME's.

"What happens over time is you actually practice inclusion. First, you may only be doing it because to get this big contract with TriMet or the City of Portland, or Multnomah County, but then after a while, you see there's nothing wrong with looking at the people that contract with you coming from women-owned business or minority-owned business and they started to participate."

Oregon Association of Minority Entrepreneurs

PHONE: 503-249-7744

WEB: oame.org

The 33rd Annual Trade Show & Conference (virtual)

Wednesday, October 20, 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m.

OAME's virtual conference promises all kinds of inclusion.


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