CRYSTAL, Minn. - Employees at Independent Packing Services are not just building shipping crates they're building the future of Minnesota's economy.
Nearly 45 percent of the people who work at the Crystal-based company are minorities and that's by design, according to owner Prince Wallace. Almost three ago, he employed three people. Today, there are 55 workers on his payroll.
"I had a dream of becoming a business owner," he said.
The dream didn't come easy for the immigrant from the Bahamas. He acquired his first company, a collection agency, in his late 20s and soon realized he was in over his head.
"I thought I knew a lot, but once I got into business, I found out that I didn't know a lot in terms of how to run a business from inside," he said.
Wallace turned to the Metropolitan Economic Development Association for help. The nonprofit helps minority entrepreneurs like Wallace develop business plans and open doors that would otherwise be closed.
Statewide Minnesota is home to some of the biggest corporations in the world; however, MEDA President and CEO Yvonne Cheung Ho said disparities remain when it comes to white-owned businesses versus minority-owned businesses.
"About 15 percent of our population is made up of people of color; however, only 5 percent of businesses are owned by people of color," she said.
The latest census information from 2007 show there are about 31,000 minority-owned businesses statewide with an average gross receipt of $188,000, compared to 450,000 white-owned businesses with an average gross receipt of $500,000.
No matter the race or ethnic background every entrepreneur faces challenges, but Cheung Ho argues it's even more difficult if you're a minority.
"Those challenges are compounded by a lack of role models, limited asset base and also in many cases discrimination in lending practices," Cheung Ho said.
Leading by example, Wallace said those challenges can be overcome with the right support and strong business plan. In addition to expanding his packing company, Wallace now owns four other businesses and is in the process of acquiring two more.
But success doesn't end there. Wallace said it's also his responsibility to give back to minority communities. That's why IPSI focuses on hiring other qualified minorities. IPSI also offers scholarships for employees' children, many of whom are first generation college students.
IPSI is now run by Wallace's son Joseph Wallace and daughter Andrea Burns. Despite the economy business is still strong.
"We moved in this facility two years ago, increased our space by 45 percent. We're pretty close to being maxed out at this space," Joseph Wallace said.
IPSI may grow out of its space, but Wallace said it will never grow out of helping other minority entrepreneurs.
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