How MWBEs in New York persevered through the pandemic

Minority- and women-owned businesses dot the many regions of New York state. Some have been in business for more than 20 years, others just over a decade, and they are owned and run by women, minorities or both. They are New York’s long-standing MWBEs.

Many were able to start their businesses smoothly, growing and developing in their industries over the years to become reliable enough to maintain a sustainable clientele. Some even caught the attention of state agencies and educational institutions, which helped these MWBEs remain successful after they secured their MWBE state certifications.

But like all other businesses, these companies faced an uncertain future two years ago when the COVID-19 pandemic started. Some of the MWBEs listed below were left with little to no clientele when the first shelter in place order was issued in March 2020. This led to some employees being let go or furloughed. Some of these MWBEs had to reinvent themselves to fit the needs of a population largely under quarantine, while others saw increased demand for their work. 

Two years later, these eight MWBEs have bounced back as business returns to normal. These MWBEs learned a lot during this daunting period for their company and their employees, perhaps enough to endure any future difficulties.

DRB BUSINESS INTERIORS

Saratoga Springs
Owner: Dorothy Rogers-Bullis

Drb Business Interiors has been in business since 2009 and offers over 200 pieces of furniture for professional environments. The company designs the pieces, assists clients in making selections and handles the installation process. Drb had its tough moments during the pandemic, when it reduced its team from 15 people to less than 10. But it looks like Drb has plans to hire new employees, with owner Dorothy Rogers-Bullis optimistic about the company’s future. “Never stop on a hill,” she tells herself and her team.

B&W SUPPLY

Ithaca
Owners: Becky Benjamin, Hoyt Benjamin Jr., Chase Benjamin

Since 1976, this family-owned business has been providing food businesses with everything from restaurant equipment to paper and janitorial supplies. Its products can be found in catalogs such as Carlisle Companies for utensils and kitchen supplies, Garland Group for gas equipment and Pitco for fryers. B&W also has a showroom in Ithaca. During the pandemic, B&W had to make an adjustment by selling in-demand items, like personal protective equipment and restaurant takeout containers instead of larger equipment. The Benjamin family believes their future is bright and that they will continue to survive and serve their customers.

MINORITECH INC.

Rochester
Owners: John Marcaida, Richard Marcaida and Patricia Marcaida

Patience, perseverance and persistence – that’s what it took for this engineering company to find nationwide success. Created by Emma Briones, a Filipina immigrant who first began working for Kodak, the name MinoriTech refers to her minority and technology background. Now, it is her children – John Marcaida, Richard Marcaida and Patricia Marcaida – who are running everything. These past two years have not been easy, but having a diversified client base as well as a wide range of products and numerous suppliers has helped keep MinoriTech afloat. Government financial assistance also helped, and things are looking up. MinoriTech was able to hire a part-time customer service representative, and it is hoping to continue to grow both in Western New York and New York City.

MAEDA CONSTRUCTION INC.

Staatsburg
Owner: Robert Drost

Putnam County’s Maeda Construction primarily does commercial and industrial projects, along with some affordable housing projects. The pandemic shut down many construction projects in New York, which hurt Maeda. Luckily, an approved Paycheck Protection Program loan gave the business “some room to breathe for a little while,” owner Robert Drost said. Doing private work was not easy since Maeda could not get concrete deliveries without a note from the city or town where it was working. Drost said the company is back and running at 100%, and COVID-19 taught them to “trim the fat” and not go overboard with expenses.

NEW YORK AMSTERDAM NEWS

Manhattan
Owner: Elinor Tatum

For over 100 years, the New York Amsterdam News has been one of the most respected Black newspapers, not only in New York City, but the entire country. Like so many news publications during the pandemic, it faced uncertainty when the whole city had to go into lockdown in March 2020. Luckily, Publisher Elinor Tatum made sure the New York Amsterdam News adjusted quickly. “We immediately went to a remote model,” she said. “Never missing an edition. Continued to print the paper as well as launch a new website and (creating) a new daily newsletter. While very challenging, it was a time of great creativity and team building in a very different way.” For the future, the New York Amsterdam News, New York City’s oldest Black newspaper, will continue to expand and grow its audiences while leveraging its philanthropic opportunities to ensure its sustainability and growth.

MICROKNOWLEDGE INC.

Latham
Owner: Kathleen Pingelski

Since 1986, MicroKnowledge has been training nonprofits, credit unions and state government departments with the latest technology, along with technology consulting and providing documentation services. The business has been serving both New York and the rest of the country and has been certified as an MWBE for nearly 30 years. But that did not insulate MicroKnowledge from struggling during the pandemic. In March and April 2020, the company lost 75% of its clientele. Fortunately, MicroKnowledge pivoted. It trained state employees in database tracing for New York’s COVID-19 initiative, which meant while it didn’t trace the virus itself, it helped workers learn to do the tracing. These days, business is back to normal, and as its President Kathleen Pingelski said, it’s all about asking: Where is the new business challenge?

IMPROVE

Chappaqua
Owner: Nona Ullman

Giving technical support to school districts, higher education institutions and other government agencies all over the state and the country since 2005, one would think Improve would not have struggled when COVID-19 hit. But instead, as owner Nona Ullman said, their work “ground to a halt,” despite all the school districts moving lessons and classroom management completely online. But as federal aid trickled down, Improve’s team became very busy, and it continued to develop business with major New York clients, such as the State University of New York.

COMPULINK TECHNOLOGIES, INC. 

Manhattan
CEO and Founder: Rafael Arboleda

For over 15 years, Compulink has been providing information technology services to government agencies, nonprofits, commercial businesses and others. The company was fortunate to be active when the pandemic began as government clients needed help transitioning to virtual work. However, as marketing coordinator Liam Hanvey explained, “As the pandemic progressed, we were one of the first industries to be affected by global supply chain shortages, the effects of which are still being felt today.” The good news, though, is that Compulink has rapidly adapted to the “new normal” and is expanding its services to its clients with the newest IT products available.