MBEConnect Profiles Magazine

March 19, 2012

A Look Ahead: 45th Annual Chicago Business Opportunity Fair

For over four decades, the Chicago Minority Supplier Development Council (ChicagoMSDC) has been known as a champion for minority businesses. Since its founding in 1969, ChicagoMSDC has sought to fulfill basic fairness in the business marketplace for all by facilitating a partnership between minority businesses, corporate America and government entities. ChicagoMSDC focuses its services both on minority entrepreneurs and corporate buyers, serving as a central network for the creation of connections and opportunities.

Today, ChicagoMSDC includes more than 1,300 certified minority-owned businesses and 250 buying organizations. These private- and public-sector buying organizations report over $3.5 billion in annual purchases supplied from minority-owned firms. The minority business enterprises (MBEs) of ChicagoMSDC employ more than 90,000 workers annually.

Nowhere is the impact of ChicagoMSDC more prevalent than at its renowned signature event, the Chicago Business Opportunity Fair (CBOF). This year will mark the 45th annual CBOF, a significant milestone with great meaning to ChicagoMSDC. “We’re still going strong after 45 years and that represents our ability to be sustainable,” says Shelia Hill Morgan, President of ChicagoMSDC. CBOF has a distinguished history as the first event of its kind. Originally began in 1967 as the Chicago Business Opportunity Day, the event was organized by corporate and community leaders focused on inspiring hope and economic equality and opportunity within racially embattled Chicago. In 1969, the event was renamed as the CBOF and remains the signature event of ChicagoMSDC. The 45th Annual CBOF will be held at historic Navy Pier in the heart of Chicago on April 11 – 13, 2012.

Each year, CBOF raises the bar and sets a high standard for what a business tradeshow should offer. The event is a catalyst for business partnerships between minority-owned firms, corporate America
and government agencies. It’s the number of attendees, both suppliers and buyers, and the amount of available opportunities that draw attendees from across the country, making it a “can’t-miss” event. “CBOF is one of the most important diverse business affairs in the country. People tend to think of it as local, but it really is a national event. CBOF attracts major Fortune 500 companies from all over the country. They come to CBOF because of the quality of MBEs in Chicago, and because of the MBEs that travel to attend this event,” says Morgan.

Though the economy has led many businesses to reevaluate their budgets, attendance at CBOF consistently proves to be worth the investment of both time and money. “In an economy where people are assessing every dollar and ensuring investments are sound, CBOF provides significant return for both corporate and MBEs,” says Morgan. Value at CBOF comes in both quantity and quality of suppliers and buyers in attendance.

Attendees of the 45th Annual CBOF can expect a variety of business enhancement opportunities across each of the three days. “In addition to the world-class trade show, we have other events where networking can occur. At CBOF, there’s something for everyone, both buyers and sellers,” says Morgan. CBOF opens with a day of comprehensive workshops and a Welcome Reception hosted by the Minority Business Enterprise Input Committee (MBEIC). Thursday, April 12 begins with the Sponsor’s Breakfast that leads to a procession of thousands to the ribbon-cutting for one of the largest minority business trade fairs in the country.

Scheduled events on the third and final day include a special speed dating version of matchmaking with corporate buyers and global trade commissioners. CBOF concludes with the CBOF 45 Awards Reception and Dinner Dance, where the top annual honors will be handed out by ChicagoMSDC to its top corporations, buyers and minority businesses. “We use this opportunity to recognize excellence among our MBEs, buyers and corporations that have done excellent things during the year,” says Morgan.

Opportunities are abound throughout all of the events scheduled during the three-day CBOF, but the trade fair is perhaps the most important. Over 4,000 corporate, government, minority exhibitors and registrants are expected to attend the trade fair. This year, designated trade floor sections, including Automotive Row and Hard Hat Row, will provide ample opportunities for MBEs to become involved with these surging industries.

With so many exhibitors and opportunities, attendees must know what they want to get out of CBOF before they attend. “Be very focused and targeted on what you can get out of the event,” advises Morgan. “For example, you could spend your time going place to place, but if you want to work with AT&T, make sure you talk to them, make a meaningful contact with them and follow-up with them as soon as possible. Corporations also need to be aware of what their supplier needs are.”

The trade fair floor can be the site of procurement deals, but deals are much more likely to be forged through the lasting business relationships first created at CBOF. “Procurement is a process and can take time,” states Morgan. “Tremendous deals have been made from introductions made at CBOF.”

In addition to CBOF, ChicagoMSDC hosts events throughout the year to improve the state of minority business. “We have significant programming devoted to both corporate and MBE development,” says Morgan. A monthly procurement luncheon allows corporations to share their initiatives, procurement process and opportunities. ChicagoMSDC also hosts an MBE-to-MBE tradeshow where local MBEs are invited to engage in business with each other.

Each quarter features a large event for MBEs, such as matchmaking sessions, 1-on-1 sessions, education, training and general membership meetings all provide significant opportunities to grow, learn, and develop.

Through these events and CBOF, ChicagoMSDC has developed a well-earned reputation as one of the largest and most active minority business organizations. “Chicago is a leader across the United States. What happens here is often replicated across the country,” notes Morgan. The rich history of ChicagoMSDC also makes it a top influencer. “We are the oldest agency whose mission is diverse business development. It is amazing to see how the network and nation has grown.”

Indeed, the minority business community in Chicago continues to thrive and is expected to expand following a new initiative involving ChicagoMSDC. In June of 2011, ChicagoMSDC and the Illinois Hispanic Chamber of Commerce were awarded a $3 million grant from the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) to operate a Minority Business Center in Chicago. Over the next five years, the Chicago Minority Business Center will create thousands of jobs and leverage contracts for high-growth minority businesses in Chicago.

“We are very focused on job creation. When MBEs hire people, it helps our economy as a whole, putting more money in the economy, which then puts even more people to work,” states Morgan. “Our goal is to enhance MBE skillsets, help to build a more robust MBE through capacity building, merger or acquisition, and marry MBEs to contracting opportunities.” Areas of focus offered by the Chicago Minority Business Center include financing, organizational growth, bonding, certification and business-to-business partnering. These valuable skills can help minority businesses pursue growth in size, scale and capacity.

This was a nationally competitive award, and several other Minority Business Centers are planned or have already been implemented in other cities by the MBDA. However, Chicago was granted significantly more funding than any other city because of its track record of reaching results beyond expectations. Within a few months of opening, the Chicago Minority Business Center has exceeded its initial goals by 150 percent. CBOF is a great way for MBEs from across the country to get involved with top corporations and the thriving minority business community in Chicago. Initiatives like the Business Development Center have also opened up the door for ChicagoMSDC to get more involved with MBEs across the country.

More information about ChicagoMSDC and CBOF, including registration and sponsorship information, is available www.chicagomsdc.org or contact Cynthia Jordan, Director of Events, cjordan@chicagomsdc.org.

Updates for CBOF 45 will also be presented on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook.



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