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The Arkansas Economic Development Commission is folding its Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprise Division into its small business division as part of an initiative to focus on the state’s entrepreneurs, officials announced Tuesday.
According to a press release, AEDC will consolidate resources as it restructures the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Development Division to focus on three areas: entrepreneurial ecosystem support, science and technology, and minority and women-owned businesses.
Esperanza Massana Crane assumed her role as the director of the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Development Division on Monday. She previously served as director of AEDC’s Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprise Division, which is being combined with other divisions as part of a restructuring.
AEDC will continue providing existing services for minority and women-owned businesses and work to increase service offerings for them, marketing and communications director Clark Cogbill told the Advocate.
The restructuring will allow for more collaboration among staff members, Cogbill said, and result in the creation of new positions “that will be instrumental in helping grow AEDC’s services for small businesses and entrepreneurs.”
In addition to providing a wider range of services and information, AEDC will also update its website to be a “one-stop-shop” for entrepreneurs and small businesses, he said.
Bob Kucheravy will lead science and technology initiatives, and AEDC will soon start a search for someone to lead the entrepreneurial ecosystem support area, Cogbill said.
In her new role, Massana Crane will lead the effort to consolidate existing divisions “to put an increased level of focus on AEDC’s efforts to add value to small business owners and entrepreneurs in Arkansas and to increase entrepreneurial activity in the state,” according to a press release.
“The state of Arkansas has an amazing network of passionate individuals and organizations that are dedicated to advancing small business and entrepreneurship,” Massana Crane said in a statement. “I am excited for our team to help drive and support efforts that will advance the conditions for business creation and development.”
Massana Crane joined AEDC in 2013 as a project manager on the Business Development team before being named Director of Marketing in 2015. She has served as the director of the Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprise Division since 2021.
In 2017, then-Gov. Asa Hutchinson and AEDC officials announced the state’s Small Business and Minority Program would be expanded to include women-owned businesses. It was renamed the Division of Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprise by Act 1080 of 2017.
Lawmakers also set new annual spending targets at that time that included 8% for minority businesses, 5% for women-owned and 2% percent for service-disabled veterans in construction, goods and services.
Arkansas officials have expressed growing opposition to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives in recent months, and the Arkansas Legislature defeated a bill to end state-sponsored affirmative action programs in April.
In May, the Arkansas Minority Health Commission discontinued its Minority Health Workforce Diversity Scholarship after a lawsuit challenged the constitutionality of the scholarship, which limited eligibility based on race.
Cogbill said AEDC’s restructuring was not prompted by those discussions, but rather a desire to do a better job of supporting entrepreneurs and small businesses.
“This is all driven by the fact that we understand how important small businesses are for the Arkansas economy and how important entrepreneurship is,” he said.
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