Intentionally working with businesses of color


Part of being a business owner is about giving back to the community you operate in. It’s also about creating lasting, helpful relationships amongst other business owners. After all, mutually beneficial arrangements are what help communities and corporations grow.

Now more than ever, it’s important to be conscious of how we’re forming those bonds and who we’re supporting when we do.

The power of diversity

The world is changing. Part of that shift is to recognize when there are and aren’t equal opportunities for anyone, regardless of their demographics or identities. Still, there is plenty of room for improvement.

To put it simply. It’s good for business, good for the community and good for humankind to continue to make strides toward inclusivity and diversity. Studies show investing in businesses of color strengthens economies. It fosters employment opportunities, a difference in perspective and closes the racial wealth gap.

There also is a ripple effect and a sense of pride that comes with an increase in diverse businesses within a local community. When people feel appreciated and valued, they feel proud of the work they do and the community that supports them. By supporting businesses of color in your area, you’re also helping your community thrive.

Diversity in supply chains

Not only can working with a business of color impact your community, it can revolutionize the way you do business, as well.

In the past few months, we have seen how our reliance on international producers and products has left us with shortcomings. At STEWART Industries, we are continuing to look at the COVID-19 pandemic and learn from those shortcomings by expanding and creating more opportunities.

We have always been a diverse company, and that means we have a network of relationships and resources that can help expand your capabilities beyond what is offered by other businesses.

In fact, when it comes to supply chain management and manufacturing, many organizations are incentivized to work alongside minority-owned businesses for the services and products they need. Like we mentioned before, not only does this help the businesses in general, but the communities surrounding them benefit, as well.

That’s why we opened a foreign trade zone (FTZ) in Battle Creek. We realized there was a lack of resources for businesses in the area, and we knew that opening the FTZ would help provide jobs for people of color in our community. Now, whenever a company works with STEWART, they’re helping to boost Battle Creek as a whole, too.

Moving forward

We can look to history to see that there is an immense opportunity for growth nowadays. It’s our chance to create a modern-day industrial revolution. Rather than sitting back and taking current events such as COVID-19 or a true stance for social justice face down, this is an opportunity for growth. We can leverage the businesses that are currently in existence and those that have not yet come to fruition to find a way to move forward in a new direction that benefits us all.

Identifying opportunities in the ashes is where we must find ourselves. There are a need, a gap and the potential to head toward greener paths when we understand how to support and properly leverage businesses of color and their inclusiveness.

We need to be taking intentional strides to include our small businesses — especially diverse businesses in our industries — and to boost them to their full potential. Only then will our organizations, communities and businesses all finally prosper together.

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As co-owner and president of STEWART Industries LLC, Erick Stewart is part of a growing team that provides next-level contract services, including assembly and quality inspection. Since 2002, he has been a board member of the Battle Creek Area Chamber of Commerce and the United Way of Greater Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region. Since 2003, Stewart has served on the Starr Commonwealth Board, Battle Creek TIFA Board and the Bronson Battle Creek Board & Finance\Investment Committee. Since 2004, he became chairperson of the Urban League Board of Directors, Minority Health Partnership, and Battle Creek Area Chamber of Commerce.During his current tenure, Stewart has had a passion for education through his service on the Lakeview Schools Foundation Board, support the establishment of the Urban League Focus Academy, countless youth engaged educational programming through his families donor-advised fund (BCCF) in addition to adding value on the Kellogg Community College Foundation Board. He received a Bachelor of Science degree in marketing from Southern University, Agricultural and Mechanical College at Baton Rouge.