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'One company at a time'

Howard Manly | 3/11/2009, 8:07 a.m.

Bacon is no ordinary taskmaster. He joined INE after a 30-year career in banking, with extensive experience in lending and risk management.

Prior to joining INE, Bacon served as senior vice president of small business credit and operations for TD Banknorth, where he managed two loan underwriting centers and the bank’s $800 million small business loan portfolio.

And he’s just part of the business firepower.

INE started with a little more than $1 million dollars committed by the City of Boston, the United Way of Massachusetts Bay, the Boston Foundation, Liberty Mutual Group and BCBSMA. Mayor Thomas M. Menino was a leading force in supporting the organization, and former BCBSMA Chairman William C. Van Fassen was the original INE board chairman.

Since then, INE has amassed an impressive board of directors. The chairman now is Thomas Hollister, the chief operating officer and chief financial officer of Global Partners LP. Hollister came on with Maureen P. Corcoran, State Street Corporation’s executive vice president and chief purchasing officer, and Mary Jo Meisner, the Boston Foundation’s vice president for communications, community relations and public affairs. Boston Chamber of Commerce CEO Paul Guzzi is also on the board, as is Cleve Killingsworth, BCBSMA’s current chairman and CEO.

INE’s success is not a surprise to Benjamin. He knew it would work all along.

Back in 2006, when he took the helm of INE, he pointed to the successful development of One Lincoln Street, the 36-story downtown building developed by minorities that sold for more than $700 million, one of the richest real estate deals in Boston’s history.

Benjamin said at the time that most in the state’s business world are on the same page. The problem, then as it is now, is in the details.

“On the macro level, we are fine,” Benjamin said. “It’s the micro level that has proven difficult.”

In 2005, about a year before the start of INE, Menino helped sponsor a comprehensive study of minority businesses throughout the state. The results provided a benchmark — and proof of what most already knew — of the gap between white-owned and minority-owned firms.

According to the study, the average minority-owned business in Massachusetts had two-thirds fewer employees and one-fifth the revenue of the average white-owned firm.

The 25 largest minority-owned companies in the state had combined revenues of slightly over $1 billion, with mean revenue of about $41 million. In comparison, the top 25 companies (both publicly and privately held) represented over $117 billion in revenues, with mean revenue of $2.6 billion.

The numbers got worse. Of the 60,000 minority-owned firms, only 1,600 were considered to be ready to deal with major corporations. It’s a small wonder that only 27 percent of the minority-owned companies surveyed for the study by the Boston Consulting Group believed that business has improved over the years here in Boston.

On the other side of the equation, corporations are all too willing to develop their business with minority-owned companies, but often, according to the study, they don’t know how. Part of the problem is the lack of communication within a corporation between senior management and those who handle day-to-day procurement and contracting decisions.

“The result is a yawning gap between the actual and the potential amount of commerce,” the report said.

All that appears to be changing, as Benjamin said, “one company at a time.” The proof is in the testimonials.

“INE has proven to us that they bring the ‘juice’ to the table!” wrote Ariel Schmidt, president of Atlantic Graphics, based in Clinton, Mass.

 Gordon Thompson, CEO of Canton-based Westnet Inc., was even more emphatic.

“With INE’s assistance,” Thompson wrote, “Westnet has become a key supplier of medical and surgical supplies and life science products for Partners HealthCare. INE is always available to us, playing a pivotal role … on issues ranging from customer acquisition to technology to business strategy. It’s a feeling of great comfort …”

But leave it to Killingsworth to put the work of INE in a larger perspective.

“… A strong minority-owned business community reflects a healthy economy,” Killingsworth wrote. “And we are determined to bring true economic inclusion to the Commonwealth.”