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Caldwell: For minority business suppliers, certification can be road to success

Sun., March 6, 2011, midnight

Marv Reguindin is triple-certified.

The president, creative director and owner of Thinking Cap Communications & Graphics has been blessed by the Northwest Minority Supplier Development Council, the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, and the Washington Office of Minority and Women Enterprises.

He says the certifications help build the profile of his three-man business, and plug Thinking Cap into networks that may lead to new opportunities.

Federal and state affirmative action laws give preference to minority suppliers, all other things being equal.

But certification can be complicated, to the point of absurdity.

Reguindin has been a member of Spokane’s gay community for 20 years. And his ethnicity is bred to the bone. But nothing is taken for granted.

“Do I have to prove I’m gay? Do I have to prove I’m Filipino?” he asks.

Well, yes. It takes letters. It takes news clippings. Consider: Would an incredulous sliver of Americans not believe President Obama was one of us if not for birth announcements in both Honolulu newspapers?

The Spokesman-Review has published several articles and letters about Reguindin over the years related to his support for a gay district in Spokane, the Pride Parade, and as chairman of the Inland Northwest Business Alliance, in essence the chamber of commerce for Spokane’s gay, lesbian, and bisexual community.

The alliance publishes a member business directory with about 130 listings.

Numbers count, and addition was one of the reasons Reguindin says he overcame his reluctance to set himself and Thinking Cap apart by applying for certifications.

Like many other minority business owners, he says, he was reluctant to risk the stigma many attach to affirmative action.

But Reguindin says others told him he was passing up potential opportunities.

“This is business. You’ve got to take advantage of every edge,” he was told.

And Reguindin says he did for another reason, as well.

“The strength in numbers is what it is all about,” he says.

Although the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce counts 1.4 million such businesses in the United States, fewer than 300 are certified. Most took the trouble because they hope to do business with the organization’s many corporate partners.

But the NGLCC made a major breakthrough with the federal government in January, when Department of Commerce Secretary Gary Locke signed a memorandum of understanding that will promote contracting opportunities with certified businesses. Spokeswoman Joanna Dees says the group and department are just starting to build alliances.

“It’s an ongoing relationship, it’s not just the gates opening,” Dees says, adding that the NCLCC is working with the State and Homeland Security departments and Export-Import Bank on additional memos.

Reguindin, who takes some satisfaction that it was former Washington governor Locke who signed the memorandum, says access to federal procurement channels should make certification more appealing to the many Spokane-area minority businesses of all kinds.

All they have to do is prove themselves.

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