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Asian Business Assn. Helps Members Find Place at the Table

September 27, 2000|STEPHEN GREGORY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Launched 23 years ago to make sure Asian businesses were at the table when contracts were doled out, the Asian Business Assn. (ABA) has since become a full-service business support organization with five offices from San Francisco to San Diego. President David Honda recently spoke about the Chinatown-based group's mission to help its 350 local members achieve their full business potential.

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Q What core services do you provide?

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A We still keep our members informed about procurement opportunities. The Asian Business Assn. was formed in 1976 because companies were saying, "We're all for minority outreach, but you're an Asian so you really don't need any help." Our job was to monitor what kind of procurement was going on and make sure we got a place at the table.

These days we have board members that have been invited onto the advisory committees of some of the big public agencies and we keep track of what's going on at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the airports, the Department of Water and Power and the harbor. We find out what the opportunities are and then we tell our members about them.

We're also working on third-generation Asian Americans because we have noticed that they usually become doctors, lawyers or other types of professionals, and they leave the businesses run by their families.

They're not into taking over their family businesses. But with the education that many of them have, they could propel their family businesses. Look at Panda Express; it went from a little Chinese restaurant to a major chain.

Another thing we're trying to do is put our members in touch with quality employees. We're working with groups at UCLA right now to connect our members with college students who are looking for an internship or even a full-time job.

We also help our members lower their cost of doing business. For example, some of our manicure shops are paying a lot of money in insurance. We are trying to get a number of these shops together so they can buy bulk insurance at a lower cost.

We work very closely with Asian and Pacific American Legislative Staff, or APALS, which includes Asian staffers from Congress and the U.S. Senate down to the Los Angeles City Council. We work with them to look at issues that affect our small businesses.

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Q Do your first-generation members face any special business challenges?

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A Sometimes they're not always aware of things going on with the government or government regulations that might affect them.

For example, about four months ago the IRS was targeting a lot of Asian-owned computer businesses about the so-called ozone tax, where the government placed a tremendous tariff on parts and products coming from countries that didn't comply with certain environmental standards.

The trouble was that none of our members had ever heard about [the tax], and they were wondering why they had to pay all this extra money. So we contacted the IRS and Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) and said, instead of penalizing these businesses, maybe a little education would be helpful. A lot of our members are first-generation immigrants, and they're not inclined to see all the pitfalls in all the government regulations, so we try to help them be aware of these things.

Another example is what happened with many of our food processing and restaurant businesses. Some of them looked at the "B" and "C" ratings from the county as like, "Hey, we didn't get closed down so we must be OK." They didn't realize that the bottom line is you need to get an "A" rating to get more customers and increase your revenue.

Sometimes it's very difficult because in the Asian community there are so many different languages and so many different cultures. So we always put things in terms of revenue. All our members understand revenue even if they're a first-generation immigrant.

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Q With the recent passage of permanent trade relations with China, how can the Asian Business Assn. help its members reach markets in China and elsewhere?

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A International trade is a very important aspect of our association, and a lot of our members have already been doing a lot of trade with China. In general, we try to hook up our members with trade representatives or trade missions from various countries. In fact, a lot of non-Asian businesses join our association for that very reason.

We don't try to reinvent the wheel. Instead, we just point our members to existing resources such as the Economic Alliance of the San Fernando Valley, which is holding an international trade event Oct. 6.

The Port of Los Angeles and Los Angeles World Airports also have some excellent international trade programs. Long Beach City College has a course called Trade Secrets that gives the fundamentals on international trade at a very reasonable cost.

To reach the Asian Business Assn., call (213) 625-2221 or visit http://www.aba-la.org.

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