Willie J. Williams, Washington regional director for the Commerce Department's Minority Business Development Agency, has turned a mid-level government job into a cause.
Working weekends and more than 14-hour days -- "whatever it takes to accomplish the job" -- Williams, 40, tries to juggle a myriad of projects, regional centers and people in his five-state region and the District.
"My prime mission is to go out and be an advocate for minority business and to pull together the resources to make minority businesses successful and productive in our society," he said in an interview.
A longtime Baltimore resident with a long career of commitments to helping minority enterprises both in the private and public sectors, Williams now commands a staff of 20 in his Washington and regional offices and an annual budget of $5.4 million.
The major portion of those funds, which have remained constant since 1981, when the Reagan administration committed new funds to the dying program, go to finance the Minority Business Development Centers in each state, he said.
In Washington, which has the highest concentration of minority businesses in his region, the center is an accounting firm that provides badly needed advice to local minority businesses in areas such as management, financing and accounting.
As midwife to the development of small minority businesses, Williams views his two most important roles as a gatherer and disseminator of information about business opportunities for his "clients," the minority enterprises in his jurisdiction.
Typically, Williams spends time visiting other government agencies trying to drum up government contracts for firms in his jurisdiction, checking up on one of the agency's seven satellite centers to gauge their effectiveness, or working to expand the agency's computer database, which he regards as one of its greatest assets.
One of the more important challenges, said Williams, is to involve more minority firms in manufacturing rather than in the service sector. Starting a company in the service sector is easier because it requires less expertise and less capital, he said. But Williams stresses manufacturing because it is not as limited in its potential for growth, and thus will hire more people.
Tying the accomplishments of his department into the larger economic picture, Williams says, "As minority businesses grow larger, they hire more people, lessen the cost of welfare, increase the tax base and decrease the national deficit. . . . This is an opportunity to get minority businesses into the mainstream."