Inside Four of the Chamber’s Small Minority and Woman Owned Businesses
Los Angeles is the most diverse city in the world and the epicenter of the most hopeful and optimistic citizens in the United States of America. With more than 224 languages spoken, it truly is a microcosm of the world. It is a place of dreams and hopes – a destination where business leaders and entrepreneurs come to find their place. Los Angeles has become a hub for a variety of industries – sports & entertainment, hospitality, health care, infrastructure, and technology.
As we look forward to the LA 2028 Olympic and Paralympic Games, the eyes of the world are slowly turning to Los Angeles and preparation for the games and the LAX Coastal region will be the “front door” to the world. The LAX Coastal region is a diverse region that stretches from Marina del Rey – dubbed LA’s marina to the north – to the runways of LAX to the south and bright lights of Inglewood to the east. With these key landmarks in our region comes opportunity for economic prosperity for small, diverse, and minority owned businesses and organizations.
Small Business is the Life Blood of LA County
For close to thirty years, Jack Ochoa, has made a career as a supplier of diversity work chasing the biggest companies in the world to support the “little guys and gals.” It was a career that started with working with the likes of Grainger, Toyota and Aramark as a procurement buyer that would teach him the tricks of the trade in collaborating with local and state governments.
“There are 88 municipalities in Los Angeles County and all of them buy a variety of things. California is the fifth largest economy in the world and Los Angeles County alone is the seventh largest economy in the world. There is plenty of opportunity just down the street.” said Ochoa.
In 2017, Jack Ochoa started Infinity Government Procurement, a veteran owned small business that focuses on helping small, minority, women, and veteran owned businesses learn to navigate the government procurement process. Infinity GPC helps business owners gain necessary certifications and understand the procurement systems across the Southern California Region that will eventually allow them to scale up their business. To date, Jack has successfully helped over 2,000 businesses based in Los Angeles County become certified with the California Department of General Services.
Jack’s passion for entrepreneurship and supporting small business started at a very young age while living with his parents in the city of Guadalajara in the State of Jalisco in Mexico. Jack’s mom, at the young age of 17 was offered the opportunity from her uncle to sell a pig for a bus ticket that would bring her to the United States. Jack’s parents committed their lives to the American Dream of growing their own small business, but also helping others scale and grow their business. Jack attributes his passion and his desire to want to help others to the hard lessons that his parents taught him during his childhood.
Along with Jack’s work as CEO of Infinity GPC, Jack also doubles up as a business consultant for the Pacific Coast Regional Small Business Development Center (SBDC) – a federally funded center that provides free resources to small businesses. Through his work at Infinity GPC and the SBDC, Jack developed a four-week virtual program that helps teach small business leaders the importance of certification and how to navigate public and private procurement. At the high point of the pandemic in May 2020, Jack brought this important program to the LAX Coastal region. “I saw certification as a huge opportunity for businesses in the LAX Coastal region. I did some research and noticed that there were only 67 certified small businesses in the Chamber’s service area. Helping a small, minority, woman, or veteran owned business get certified in LA County or the City of Los Angeles has the potential to open up new business development opportunities that previously never existed,” commented Jack.
City governments, special districts (such as LAX, Port of LA) and the County of Los Angeles all have procurement spending requirements with certified small businesses – everything from infrastructure contracts to office supplies.
Jack recently was a part of the team that rolled out the Regional Alliance Marketplace for Procurement (aka RAMP). RAMP is the City of Los Angeles’ newest centralized portal where all public entities, as well as private companies, can upload their procurement opportunities. RAMP was designed to help create one master “rolodex“ of certified small, minority, woman, and veteran owned businesses in one location.
One of these certified small, woman, and minority owned businesses is Murakawa Communications.
Trisha Murakawa, Principal at Murakawa Communications, just celebrated 20 years in business working on some of the most important quality of life projects in the Los Angeles region. A certified small, woman, minority owned business, Murakawa Communications has helped bring stakeholders together to find a voice on critical infrastructure projects.
Murakawa credits her success to her parents‘ commitment and devotion to community service. Raised by a fourth generation Angeleno mother and father that hailed from Hawaii, Trisha was taught at a very early age that trust, respect, integrity, service, and passion would be the guiding principles in life. To this day, those same principles have been what has driven her work at Murakawa Communications.
Murakawa has been on the front lines working with key stakeholders in some of LA’s most diverse communities on some of the most impactful quality of life projects that center around transportation, infrastructure, water, and sanitation. Murakawa was fortunate enough to be tapped by LAX ConRAC Partners, a joint venture public private partnership that was chosen by Los Angeles World Airports to build a 6.3 million square foot facility that will become the largest rental car complex in the world. The Consolidated Rent-A-Car (ConRAC) Facility is set to house close to 18,000 vehicles and is the second largest concrete structure in the U.S. behind only the Pentagon.
Most recently, Murakawa was hired by the Los Angeles Metro Transit Authority (Metro) to lead the outreach efforts for the Vermont Transit Corridor Project, which explores bringing further mass transit from Hollywood Boulevard to 111th Street in South Los Angeles. Murakawa and her team’s task – connect with some of Los Angeles’ most vulnerable communities to hear more about their transportation needs. 99% of the communities along the Vermont Transit Corridor were communities of color with more than 60% living below the poverty line. Communities where cars were in short supply and Angelenos were just trying to get to the next day. Murakawa shared, “We spent time in women’s shelters and drug treatment centers along the project site to learn what people were going through.” Her team quickly learned of the major disparities facing Angelenos in these communities. Public safety was a top priority for those taking mass transit – (lighting at bus stops and buses improperly used for shelters and bathrooms). Murakawa continued, “Part of the work we do is understanding the thoughts and opinions of all the key stakeholders in the community so the best and most effective plan can be put together.”
For twenty years, Murakawa Communications has been working with stakeholders to ensure their voices are heard. “It is so critical that we use and look through an equity lens on how we develop and implement our plans. This has been our approach. We must create a way for all stakeholders to be heard,” says Murakawa.
Another minority owned company who shares these same values is Papa John’s-Westchester, owned by Jonathan and James Miller. Some of their main priorities are taking care of people, listening to their customers and staff and treating them like family.
Big Ideas & Entrepreneurship for a Better Community
In 1991 at the young age of seven, Jonathan Miller vividly remembers the Tyson Chicken Food Truck pulling into a parking lot in Dallas, Texas and unloading chicken for his dad, James Miller’s KFC Restaurant. At 10, he remembers being in the back kitchen cooking chicken and at 12 at the register taking orders. A strong education, hard work, entrepreneurship and taking care of people were the life lessons that James Miller taught his son from a very young age growing up in the suburbs of Dallas in the 90s.
“Business has always been about how you treat people. When they walk into your store, do you remember them and thank them for their business,” shares James Miller. James Miller’s journey started though much earlier as education opened his eyes to the world. James would go on to graduate from University of North Texas followed by a Bachelor’s in Business in Administration and an MBA from Texas A&M University. From there, it was a job as a Resale Marketing Representative at Mobil Oil Corporation. It was then in the early 1970’s, that he decided he wanted to have his own business. In 1977, James was sponsored by the Buick Motor Division in Dallas, Texas to go through General Motors Development Academy – a leadership training program that would eventually train him to open and operate a General Motors retail new automobile dealership. It was in this program that he learned that if he connected with people on a very foundational level, nothing would stop him. James went onto to be the top car salesman at Ken Pruitt Buick and would eventually sell the most Buick vehicles in the 1980’s in the state of Texas. Eventually, James found his way into the restaurant business and in the 90’s was the very first black franchisee of both a KFC and Taco Bell Fast Food Restaurant in the State of Texas. His success would continue to multiply and in 2002, would be called upon to be the trailblazer of a new concept the “2 in 1” fast food restaurant when KFC would partner up with Taco Bell. All the while, his young son, Jonathan was looking on and learning from his hardworking father.
Fast forward and all grown up, Jonathan Miller has taken the leap of moving to the West Coast – a place where bright lights and dreams come true for entrepreneurs with big ideas. Jonathan graduated with a degree in Business from Pepperdine University. While in school he would develop a company called Recess that would connect college students with the music nightlife of Los Angeles. Upon graduating from school, Jonathan gained a diverse set of work experiences that taught him financial analytics, sales, fashion and tech development. He was a part of the early teams that developed what eventually would become Match.com and the dating application famously known as Tinder. All of this would eventually lead to Jonathan and his dad coming into business together forming, A NU-DAY LLC, opening their first franchised restaurant together – Papa Johns Westchester located on 5654 Manchester Avenue in 2019.
Their mission and goal with their restaurant: How can we leverage pizza as a way to impact and improve the local community. “When I first met James and Jonathan, I knew they were a special dynamic duo that were going to do something special. They understood that having a food establishment in the community was more than just feeding people. When people walked through the door, they were a part of their family. To this day when I go into Papa Johns Westchester, I see James, Jonathan and the staff team refer to their customers by name,” comments LAX Coastal CEO/President, Chad Maender.
James and Jonathan have built a small, but mighty team of 10 that helps run the Papa Johns in Westchester, but they have bigger dreams for how they can impact the local community. Approximately 12 months ago, Jonathan started a community benefit program to help area schools called “Split a Slice”. The concept is simple – an oversized slice of pizza for sale with half the proceeds going back to Papa Johns and the other half going right back to the school. Over the course of the first year in collaboration with St. Bernard’s High School, Papa Johns Westchester has helped them raise close to $20,000.
Be on the lookout for some new and innovative ideas from the team at Papa Johns – Westchester. They are hoping to improve the community one pizza at a time.
Just down the street from Papa Johns in Westchester is Airport Marina Counseling Service(AMCS), which is also doing some incredibly impactful and inclusive work at such a critical time in our LAX Coastal region. As the needs for mental health services continues to climb in Los Angeles, they are on the front line of the mission of ensuring every community, regardless of their ability to pay, has access to mental health services.
Airport Marina Counseling Service started in 1962, by a group of local community-based leaders that saw the need for local mental health services. Rumor had it that Mary Ellen Cassman was doing a routine drop off at Westchester High School and met a parent that needed counseling services. Mary Ellen learned that she was traveling 30 minutes each direction to a clinic. Mary Ellen went back to her husband, the late Alan “Bud” Cassman, and said we need to do something. The Cassmans, along with some other community members, pooled some funds together and started AMCS. From there the organization grew and grew. Mary Ellen Cassman, now 99 years old, still lives in Westchester and is involved in supporting the great work at AMCS.
Sixty years later, AMCS has morphed and changed with the times. Eight years ago, Eden Garcia-Balis took the reins of the organization to lead it through an important chapter of its history. AMCS is the perfect intersection for Eden as it brings community and mental health together. Eden believes her professional journey has prepared her for helping to elevate and continue to take AMCS to the next level. Eden’s career started as a Marriage and Family Therapist working in cities like Watts & Wilmington providing in-home services followed by an important stop as the Executive Director of Pasadena Mental Health Center.
Airport Marina Counseling Services provides important services to youth starting at age five all the way up to adults. Annually, AMCS serves 1,300 to 1,500 clients with an average of about six months of services. AMCS has continued to be a safe place for individuals of all ages and walks of life to gain the necessary support they need to thrive. 70% of all AMCS clients report that they have met and exceeded their goals after ending therapy.
Along with AMCS providing needed mental health services to the community, it also serves as a place for therapists to train to complete their hours for their certificate and degree programs. In 2018, this endeavor of being a training non-profit organization was taken a step further as an important partnership was formed with Antioch University working closing with LGBTQ+ community. Under the leadership of Dr. Mimi Hoang, the LGBTQIA+ Affirmative Therapy Center was born at AMCS. As one of the few centers in Los Angeles that specializes in psychotherapy for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender folks. The LGBTQIA+ Affirmative Therapy Center welcomes all cultures, ethnicities, sexual orientations and gender identities. The Center has become so popular that individuals are sometimes waitlisted to be seen.
The service that AMCS provides is vast as it provides individual counseling, couples counseling, family therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, in addition to on and off-site groups. AMCS also has partner organizations where they bring their services and programs out to the community at the Westchester Family YMCA, the Boys and Girls Club, The People Concern and Helen’s Room.
Eden shared that she is incredibly proud about how far AMCS has evolved, but knows there is still much to do. “We are recognizing the importance diversity plays in our community.” AMCS, along with many organizations, are standing up and playing a major role in supporting those needs. As a fluent, spanish speaking Latina, I am also grateful to see the diversity of our community continuing to change. The LAX Coastal region continues to be a melting pot of small businesses and large businesses that are helping bring economic prosperity.”
Small and diverse businesses are the heartbeat of our community and ultimately it is what makes Los Angeles what it is today. As the business community continues to emerge from the dark days of the pandemic, we know that the brightest of days are still ahead. We must all continue to be “change agents” for a better and more inclusive tomorrow.