Fulfilling a Long-Ago Promise ‘Unevenly Applied’

Fulfilling a Long-Ago Promise ‘Unevenly Applied’

Fairfax City’s VMBDA helps minority businesses succeed.

Celebrating after the ribbon cutting: (In center, from left), are Tommy Marks, Old Town Fairfax Business Assn. Executive Director Tess Rollins, Catherine Read, Fairfax City Economic Development Authority member Dawn McGruder, and Sharon Pinder.

Celebrating after the ribbon cutting: (In center, from left), are Tommy Marks, Old Town Fairfax Business Assn. Executive Director Tess Rollins, Catherine Read, Fairfax City Economic Development Authority member Dawn McGruder, and Sharon Pinder.

The Virginia Minority Business Development Agency (VMBDA) has just opened a new business center in Fairfax City. And at the outset of its ribbon cutting, Fairfax Mayor Catherine Read explained the organization’s importance.

“The promise that someone can become a successful entrepreneur is the foundation our country was built on,” she said. “People come here today, as they came 400 years ago, saying, ‘I have an opportunity to recreate and reinvent myself and to have a business that meets needs and builds the community and country.’”

But the problem, said Read, is that this hopeful ideal has been “unevenly applied throughout our country’s history.” Now, though, enterprise organizations such as the VMBDA are offering access and availability to help grow minority entrepreneurs. 

As a result, she said, “Everyone has the opportunity to live the dream that was promised by our country’s founding fathers – that this is where you come to [achieve] prosperity, health and wellbeing for yourself and your family. And VMBDA is delivering on that promise.”

The center is staffed with seasoned business consultants who offer technical assistance and business-development services fostering the growth and global competitiveness of minority-owned businesses. These services include helping such businesses develop, increase their revenue, secure transactions and build capital.   

Located at 10306 Eaton Place, near Fairfax City’s own economic-development headquarters, VMBDA chose this site to capitalize on the synergy it can find there among itself and GMU’s Mason Enterprise Center, the Virginia Procurement Technical Assistance Center, and the Virginia Small Business Development Center.

From left, Tess Rollins and Catherine Read chat with Sharon Pinder.  


“I am so delighted that you’re here in Fairfax City,” Read told VMBDA officials. She also said how pleased she is that it’s “part of this collaboration and coalition of other organizations supported by the Commonwealth of Virginia to grow small businesses.” 

Because of this unity, she said, “People realize the fact that entrepreneurship is not out of reach for anyone – no matter your age, where you came from or what language you speak. The opportunity is here for you.” 

VMBDA’s Sharon Pinder is VMBDA’s president and CEO, and Tommy Marks is its director, and Read said she appreciates “what they’re doing to plant the seeds and to grow these entrepreneurs. And the City welcomes them because growing entrepreneurs and businesses is what this City does best.”

In response, Pinder said, “It is absolutely an honor and privilege to be here at such a historic kind of occasion during a historic time in this country. And Madam Mayor, the words that you expressed ring so true. It’s what our mission is about and it’s what inspires us to get up every morning to do what we do.”

Pinder said she also believes in the adage that “to whom much is given, much is required,” adding, “That is what our passion is all about, as we do what we do every day for businesses of color. So thank you for the warm welcome and for providing this environment, because that’s important, as well.

“You can do this work in challenging kinds of environments. But if you’re in a welcoming situation, that then plays well in terms of what you’re trying to deliver.” Pinder then introduced some of her organization’s board and team members attending that day’s ceremony. 

She also announced that her group had received a monetary grant from the Capital Readiness Program – a federal, technical-assistance program that helps underserved, minority entrepreneurs grow and scale their businesses. She also explained its significance. 

The national Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) was established in 1969, on the heels of the Civil Rights Movement and racial unrest in the late 1960s. Still, said Pinder, “We were created in order to provide support for minority businesses – and more than 50 years later, unfortunately, we’re still having the same conversation.”

But she said the organization’s mission continues to endure because “we’re one of 23 affiliates from across the country, so we’re part of a national organization. In terms of our membership nationally, there are 1,700 corporations that belong to us and over 16,000 certified minority businesses. 

“Our work is cut out for us, and that’s why this grant is so important,” said Pinder. “Business is about relationships and turning those relationships into revenue. That’s our mantra and what we do. And in a recent Washington Business Journal, for the fifth year in a row, we were named one of the biggest business-advocacy groups in the Greater Washington Region.”

Sometimes, she said, “You need validation that what you’re doing makes a difference. She then thanked the VMBDA leaders in attendance for what they do “to help us make a difference.” Next, she introduced Director Marks. He served 24 years as an Army officer, retiring as a lieutenant colonel in September 2001, before joining VMBDA – and it was his idea to move the organization to Fairfax City.

“I hit the jackpot with Tommy Marks,” said Pinder. “He comes to us with decades of experience, being retired military, a retired senior executive in the federal government, and the former director of the U.S. Army Small Business Agency.”

“He’s been able to drive us forward, in the few years he’s been here, in terms of the support we get,” she continued. “When we won a grant to be the first in the history of the MBDA to have a presence in Virginia, he was the only guy who could do this deal.”

“We’re definitely grateful to be here,” replied Marks. “The Virginia MBDA center is one of 50 such business centers across the United States. We’re a quasi-government agency. In order for the government to do its job, its business model is these business centers. 

“We went after the first-ever Virginia center and were blessed to receive it. Think about it – 50 years when we were right at the doorstep of Washington, D.C. – and we don’t get a business center to cover the commonwealth. Northern Virginia, from Fredericksburg north, was covered by either Washington, D.C., or a business center in Maryland. The southern half of the commonwealth was covered by a business center in North or South Carolina.”

Marks said it’s been the VMBDA’s job to cover Virginia since 2021 and he’s been all over the state since then, bringing awareness of what the VMBDA does and what it offers to minority businesses. “We’re a business-consultation organization and a business enhancer,” he said. “We were in Alexandria for four years since 2019. We moved to the City of Fairfax last July because of the synergy it brings. Again, we thank you – this was our best move.”

For more information, email info@mbda-virginia.com, call 571-407-5096 or go to www.mbda-virginia.com.