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WOMEN'S BUSINESS CONFERENCE IMPRESSES TEENS

April 15, 2004 – A group of Education Complex High School students gained insights into small business ownership, professional development and customer service on Thursday as the 5th annual Economic Development Conference of the V.I. Women's Business Center got under way at the Divi Carina Bay Resort.
The group comprised seven seniors who are National Honor Society members — Kimberly Ayala, Maisha Frederick, Amina Johnson, LaDonna Joseph, Samuel Mootoo, Trisha Sylvan and Clinton Williams.
Diane Garcia, Education Complex Honor Society chaper adviser, had shared the agenda with the students ahead of time, so Amina said she was expecting the various presentations. "I think it's a great opportunity to hear other business persons tell how they got to where they are," she said.
Clinton said the first presenter, Lorna Owens, "was really excellent and motivated me even though I'm not a female." He has no plans to start a business anytime soon, as he'll be heading to Florida Institute of Technology in the fall to study engineering. But he said the insights into what employers require will serve him well as an employee and future manager.
Owens is a former entertainment lawyer who established a charitable organization that funds Caribbean Heart Menders, a program that makes open-heart surgery available to children in the region, and donates $10,000 a year to a women's clinical van in India that goes from village to village offering HIV counseling.
The conference theme is "Entrepreneurship: the Golden Key to Self Sufficiency." Bernadette Richards, WBC director, said the sessions are aimed at motivating participants to move on to the next step of making their dreams a reality "by arming you with the necessary knowledge, skills and abilities for launching a business."
"It is not about the idea; it is about the person, Owens told her audience. "What sets you apart from others? Have you got the passion within you that's burning you up?"
As a business owner, she said, "you have to control your environment if you want to be successful." And, she added, you must do what you promise to do in the time frame agreed upon; "you can't regain credibility."
Owens, a native of Jamaica who has lived in Miami for two decades, said she has found the people on St. Croix extremely hospitable and friendly, and that has enticed her to return next December to conduct a weeklong "walk on faith and empowerment" at the Avalon Retreat. That program will include therapeutic sessions at Point Udall and Camp Victory, she said.
Thursday's luncheon address was by Beverly Drew-Petrus, co-owner with her husband, former senator Allie-Allison Petrus, of four Subway deli franchises on St. Thomas. She urged prospective business owners to research franchising options, since franchisers offer a "package deal" of tools, training, equipment and consulting.
The St. Thomian couple returned home after two years off-island and have opened three Subway locations in the last two years.
Drew-Petrus said her greatest struggle is getting employees to understand that she has zero tolerance for poor customer service. "We must begin this concept on the elementary [school] level," she said. "It is so difficult on the adult level to change the mold."
St. Thomas tax lawyer Marjorie Rawls Roberts outlined the opportunities and benefits available to small businesses in the Virgin Islands in a presentation called "Sun, Sea, and Savvy: Opportunities Abound."
It is not difficult to find an educated, enthusiastic workforce, Roberts told the audience. She cited one Virgin Islander who after completing her studies on the mainland recently chose to circulate her resume "back home." The young woman has been hired by an Economic Development Program beneficiary, Roberts said.
Companies are very receptive to applicants, she said. "Sit down with them. Tell them what you want … Be proactive. There are a lot of resources for you," she said.
Roberts also spoke about small business tax incentives and eligibilities, designated enterprise zones, and benefits for farmers, fishermen and jewelry and watch manufacturers.
The day's sessions also included a personality profile analysis by Caroline Kalil, author of "Arches of Rainbows in the Workplace – The Diversity of Employees," and a presentation by Audrey Alvarado on "Making Nonprofit Your Business — Starting and Growing a Nonprofit Organization."
In a message to the conference, Gov. Charles W. Turnbull congratulated the Women's Business Center, the U.S. Small Business Administration and the St. Croix Foundation for Community Development "for their continued effort to expand opportunities for the women of this community."
Friday's program includes sessions on "Attracting and Retaining the Best and the Brightest to Your Company," "Creating and Implementing Effective Proactive Customer Service in Your Business," "Using Your Creativity as Business" and "Sustaining a Nonprofit."
The concluding half-day session on Saturday will have presentations on "Mind, Body and Soul – Thai Stretch Therapy" and "Feng Shui – Improving Life by Design."
Richards invited residents to join the Women's Business Center for its Saturday night "Empowerment Gala" in the Divi ballroom. Cocktails are at 6 p.m., with dinner to follow at 7:30 p.m. The honorees are Zora Galvin and Angela Morales, with Lucinda Yates as keynote speaker.
Yates founded Designs by Lucinda, a jewelry company, after finding herself homeless as a result of divorce and financial setbacks. Today the company has 50 employees, international distribution and a line of jewelry intended as fund-raising products.
Tickets for the gala are $75 per person and $140 per couple.
For more information about the conference and the center, visit the WBC Web site or call 773-4995.

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