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Minority Fair Matches Customers, Suppliers : Trade: Despite the recession, those who participate are hoping to find opportunities.

January 23, 1991|CRISTINA LEE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ANAHEIM — When James C. Lu awoke early Tuesday, he said, his thoughts were divided between the troubled U.S. economy and a "fishing trip" he couldn't afford to miss.

Lu's fishing trip was actually the annual Minority Business Opportunity Day, where the president of an environmental services company in Cypress hoped to hook some new customers from among more than 75 major U.S. corporations and federal agencies attending the trade fair.

The fair, billed as one of the nation's largest trade fairs designed to match corporate and government customers with minority vendors, is held annually, alternating between Orange and Los Angeles counties. It is sponsored by the Anaheim-based Orange County Purchasing Council, a nonprofit group set up to encourage minority business development.

Lu's company, Calscience Engineering & Laboratories Inc., works primarily with the aerospace industry, which has been hurt by the U.S. recession and cuts in defense spending. Likewise, Lu's firm is suffering.

"My company does not have much going in other sectors, and I want to expand my business . . . while there's still time," he said.

Lu was encouraged by the response he received Tuesday from two companies, oil giants Arco and Exxon Corp. Michael Payne, a senior buyer at Arco's transportation division, said his company is interested in the type of underground fuel tank cleanup service that Lu's company provides.

Nearby, David Moe, a contract negotiator for U.S. Sprint, was looking pleased. He said he had found a contractor, Atramentech Inc. of Upland, that could provide general and emergency maintenance work for the company's fiber-optic telecommunications systems in Southern California.

Trade fair organizers said the attendance by suppliers was off sharply from last year. An estimated 600 vendors attended Tuesday's event, contrasted with 750 who showed up at last year's fair in Los Angeles. The number of representatives of major corporations and federal agencies was about the same as a year ago.

"The economic downturn has some impact on the small and minority businesses, and that has affected the attendance," said Hollis Smith, executive director of the Anaheim-based council.

"So far, we've not seen a reduction in money spent for minority businesses from the corporations. . . . But a decline may show up later," he said.

In 1989--the latest year for which figures are available--minority businesses in Southern California did about $1.2 billion worth of business with major U.S. corporations. The Orange County Purchasing Council estimates that that figure, when adjusted for inflation, rose slightly in 1990.

The aerospace, petrochemical and utilities industries continue to be the largest buyers from minority businesses, thanks largely to state and federal regulations that require government contractors to buy some of their products from small- and minority-owned businesses.

"We're hoping that as major corporations look for new opportunities and businesses, they'll bring along the minority business suppliers with them," Smith said.

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