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Cover That Ground : Crash Course Steers Minorities Toward Real Estate Success

June 06, 1997|JESUS SANCHEZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ronnie Jones was a small-building contractor in Inglewood who had always longed to join the ranks of big-league real estate developers.

So, when USC launched its Minority Program in Real Estate Finance and Development in 1993, Jones quickly signed up for the intensive, two-week course designed to increase minority participation in real estate and economic development.

"I was interested . . . in sharpening my skills and becoming a better businessperson," said Jones, executive vice president of Tumohr Construction Co.

Jones is one of the 90 or so graduates of the program, which will begin its fifth annual session June 16.

The program was developed after the Los Angeles Redevelopment Agency faced a dearth of minority developers and entrepreneurs interested in and capable of working on agency projects. Agency executives approached USC about creating the program, which has received monetary support from financial and real estate companies and government institutions.

"We give them some tools and expose them to all the pieces of the puzzle," said USC real estate professor David Dale-Johnson, who co-directs the program with USC finance professor Stuart Gabriel. "It gives them a good sense of the nature of the process and helps them understand what kind of experts they need to partner with."

Each year, two dozen or so students--most of whom already work in real estate or economic development--live on campus and take on a jampacked schedule of classes, lectures and workshops. They get a crash course on subjects as basic as operating a financial calculator to as complex as negotiating leases and buying property in foreclosure.

The program, believed to be the only one of its kind in the nation, has drawn students from as far away as Louisiana. But most of the participants come from the private firms and nonprofit agencies working in economic and real estate development in South Los Angeles, near the USC campus, Gabriel said.

"We hope to allow these people to [perform their work] in a more effective and expedient manner," Gabriel said. Tuition is $3,200, but most participants receive substantial scholarships.

Carlos Mesa, a college biology major who sold homes for a builder in Watts, spent his 1993 summer vacation in the program. Now, Mesa, 38, manages his company's $20-million housing development in Hawthorne and is responsible for obtaining construction financing.

"When I came back [to work], I had some of the tools that allowed me to assume more responsibilities and show my abilities."

Jones, the Inglewood contractor, isn't a big-time developer yet. But he has parlayed the skills and valuable industry contacts he picked up during his two weeks at USC to expand the size and scope of his business. He and his partner have been involved in numerous retail projects in South Los Angeles, and their firm is involved in rebuilding a drugstore destroyed during the rioting of 1992.

"It was a tremendous opportunity," Jones said of the program.

For more information, call USC at (213) 740-8942.

Jesus Sanchez can be reached via the Internet at jesus.sanchez@latimes.com or by fax at (213) 237-7837.

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