Partners (Fall 1997)

Creating Small Business Opportunities
in Florida
By Jennifer Grier

B y most economic measures, the state of Florida is experiencing the best of times. Throughout the 1990s, Florida's economy has consistently outperformed the nation. Despite a slowdown in manufacturing, the state has enjoyed growth in many sectors of the economy, including retail, service and international trade. As Vice President of Minority Business Development with Enterprise Florida, it is Kaaren Johnson-Street's responsibility to ensure that small, women- and minority-owned businesses in Florida are afforded an equal opportunity to capitalize on this economic boon. Accordingly, Ms. Johnson-Street provides invaluable insight on issues affecting Florida's urban communities in her position as chairperson of the board of directors of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta's Miami Branch.

Kaaren Johnson-Street
Kaaren Johnson-Street
Enterprise Florida

In 1995, Enterprise Florida replaced the State Department of Commerce as the state's principal economic development organization. Enterprise Florida is a unique public/private partnership that acts as a catalyst for business development in Florida. The organization develops programs and strategies to address the creation, expansion, and retention of Florida business, in addition to recruiting corporations for relocation and international trade.

In her efforts to encourage the creation and growth of small, women- and minority-owned businesses, Ms. Johnson-Street provides support to local governments and economic development organizations. As an advocate for emerging businesses, she works diligently with the public and private sectors to promote access and participation in various industries in domestic and global markets.

Minority Business Advisory Council

While addressing so many complex issues may appear to be a daunting task, Kaaren Johnson-Street has been quick to credit others. "Luckily," she asserts, "I have the support of the Minority Business Advisory Council, which represents the leadership of communities throughout Florida."

The Minority Business Advisory Council (MBAC) is made up of representatives from economic development organizations across the state. The members meet monthly to discuss pertinent economic issues affecting small and minority-owned businesses in their respective communities and, together, develop solutions to address them

To facilitate a more focused approach to addressing these issues, the MBAC has formed 6 Working Committees to address specific issues affecting small- and minority-businesses in the state. The Committees are as follows: Private Sector Procurement, Manufacturing and Technology, Capital Formation, Urban Initiative, International Trade, and Legislative Affairs.

Microloan Program

Ms. Johnson-Street heads the Urban Initiative Committee that is currently developing a strategic plan to revitalize urban areas throughout Florida. One initiative is the formation of a state-funded $1 million dollar microloan program. Ms. Johnson-Street explains, "We see this program as the initial step in empowering those individuals who have entrepreneurial skills but lack the access to capital needed to form a small business."

In the wake of welfare reform, Ms. Johnson-Street also feels that the microloan program could provide opportunities for the tens of thousands of urban Florida residents who will be transitioning from welfare to work. "Many of these individuals have operated cottage industries for years. We hope to legitimize these businesses and provide the necessary support to make them viable."

Partnering with the Financial Community

Enterprise Florida's efforts to develop programs that foster business development is strongly supported by private partners. The banking community is well represented on its board of directors and is a crucial component of the program's success. For example, Ms. Johnson-Street is working to leverage the $1 million state-funded microloan program with private dollars from banks and foundations.

A former executive with the Burger King Corporation, Ms. Johnson-Street has spent many years dealing with urban issues. Over time, she has acquired an understanding of what makes deals work. "We would like to see the private sector begin to look at urban areas as an emerging market," she says. "There are so many opportunities for commercial development for those lenders and investors willing to adopt a nontraditional, but sound approach to assessing these ventures."

Kaaren Johnson-Street (center) is pictured with Doris Reeves-Lipscomb (left) and Doris Maloy (right) at a meeting of the Minority Business Advisory Council in Orlando, Florida.

Unique Perspective

Although Kaaren Johnson-Street has held various positions in the public and private sectors, she has consistently worked to promote an environment that both embraces and appreciates the diversity of women- and minority-owned businesses. She has served as vice president of Diversity Enterprise for the Burger King Corporation in Miami; President and Chief Executive Officer of the Private Industry Council of Dade County; Vice President of Personnel for the New York State Urban Development Corporation; and President and CEO of Kaaren Street Associates, Inc.

For the wealth of experience she has acquired, she believes there was probably no better training for her current position than the 12 years she spent running her own consulting firm. This experience, she says, instilled in her a true appreciation of the triumphs and challenges of being an entrepreneur. "I have learned first-hand the dynamics of business ownership, marketing and survival. It is that perspective and passion that I bring to this position everyday."

Board of the Miami Branch

Ms. Johnson-Street has served on the board of directors of the Miami Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta since 1995. Currently, she is the board chairperson. The financial, economic, and anecdotal information from each of the seven board members is extremely important to the Reserve Bank in evaluating current economic conditions in the area. This information, along with research and statistical data, is presented to the Atlanta board of directors for consideration in formulating monetary policy recommendations.

As a board member, Ms. Johnson-Street has enjoyed the collegiality and opportunity to engage in discussion on the factors affecting the current economic pulse of the community. "I also appreciate having the opportunity to present a unique perspective on what is occurring in the inner cities," she adds, "a perspective that isn't always presented at the table."

Jack Guynn 
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