When more than 60 Fairfax County business and community leaders met recently to discuss ways to improve minority business opportunities, the goal was to do something no other business community has done well: develop and carry out a plan to give minority entrepreneurs more opportunities to succeed.

In many ways, Fairfax County's minority business community already is a model for the country. Six of the largest 100 African American-owned businesses are headquartered in the county as are 13 of the nation's 500 largest Hispanic-owned businesses and seven of the 50 largest Hispanic-owned tech firms.

But many minority businesspeople feel they lack access when it comes to expanding their companies. That concern pervaded the recent forum sponsored by the county Chamber of Commerce and the county's Economic Development Authority and Small Business Commission. Here is an outline of the plan developed at that forum:

Develop more corporate partners for minority businesses by promoting networking and establishing forums to introduce corporate leaders to minority business people.

Encourage Fairfax County companies to use local minority contractors and partners first and establish a mentoring program for established minority businesspeople to counsel up-and-comers.

Provide more information for and about minority businesses. Possibilities include creating a Web site that details financial and government resources for starting and aiding minority companies. Another proposal was to get Fairfax County officials to include information on business resources with all tax bills and licenses and promote these resources through media outlets oriented toward minorities.

Get minority business leaders involved in the chamber, the Northern Virginia Roundtable and the Small Business Commission and encourage business groups to foster participation by minority member organizations in special events and programs.

Show off successes by spotlighting companies that have worked with minority firms and celebrating minority businesses that have distinguished themselves.

Participants at the forum will regroup in a few months to outline the steps they have taken to improve the climate of minority businesses. Fairfax County is the economic engine of the state and the region. It has a quality of life that is the envy of the country. Now is the time to ensure that minority-owned businesses are full partners in this booming economy.

-- Patricia Woolsey

-- James Dyke

respectively, chair the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority and the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce.