William Pickard, chairman and chief executive officer of the Detroit-based Global Automotive Alliance LLC, a grouping of six minority-owned plastics companies, dashed a frequently heard misperception — that carmakers will pay a premium price to work with a minority-owned supplier. "It's about building market share in the [minority] communities," Pickard said. "They used to throw business over the wall. Now, they're developing good suppliers that meet their cost, delivery and quality targets."
Minority-owned companies used to struggle for acceptance from customers and banks, said Carlos Baranano, the Cuban-born chief executive officer of Injectronics Inc., a minority-owned automotive molder in Clinton, Mass.
"We recognize that we will not get business just because we're a minority," Baranano said. "We have to be as good a supplier as anybody in the long run. We can't use [minority status] as a crutch."
Smaller-sized companies still can find their way in the door. Injection molder Olamon Industries recently discovered that fact. The company is owned by the Penobscot Indian Nation. It operates its injection molding plant on a reservation in Indian Island, Maine.
For years, the company made its living molding audio boxes for cassette tapes. But when that business started moving offshore around 1994, the company had to seek work elsewhere.
That led Olamon to such areas as multi-image compact-disc packaging, insulation guard cutters for the construction industry and vials for light bulb filaments.
But Olamon also turned to German auto supplier Lemforder Corp., which has a plant in Brewer, Maine.
In addition, Olamon has been in contact with General Motors Corp. directly, getting involved in GM's online bidding for parts, said Olamon President Al Marquis.
Working with GM amazed Marquis, who never thought his small company, with about $12 million in sales, would get that opportunity. He said the automotive business was the only one where minority status mattered.
The American Indian-owned company added 7,000 square feet to its 33,000-square-foot site in spring 1999 and is currently installing its 17th press.
Like many minority-owned molders, Marquis wants to benefit from the program — but takes it with a degree of scrutiny.
`If the auto industry is serious, it can play a role for us," Marquis said. "But it's a bit unique to call us an emerging minority in America. You can't be more American than an Indian tribe."