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JENNIFER NETHERBY Staff Reporter When Valerie Red-Horse applied for minority-owned business status in 1984 for her advertising specialty business, it was a tough road. Being Native American meant that unlike other minorities, she had to prove her Cherokee heritage. Unfortunately, she grew up in Fresno and had no official tribal enrollment. To prove she is Cherokee, she needed her father’s birth certificate or some legal documentation. Problem was, her father, born in the 1890s on the reservation, had no birth certificate. “They said, ‘We can say you’re Hispanic,’ ” Red-Horse recalled. “If you’re Hispanic, Asian or African-American, you don’t have to prove your race. For Indians, we have to show proof.” Red-Horse was eventually able to prove her Cherokee ancestry and classify as a minority-owned business, a designation that can improve chances of contracts for government or corporate accounts. Fifteen years later, her company, Executive Specialties, has grown to $1.1 million in annual revenues and has become one of the top minority-owned businesses in the San Fernando Valley, according to the Business Journal’s list. “We’ve had a lot of success,” said Red-Horse, who now speaks to other Native Americans about entering the business world. “The number of Native American-owned businesses has grown, but we’re still way behind other ethnic groups.” Minority-owned businesses in the San Fernando Valley continued to see an increase in revenues in 1998, according to a sampling by the Business Journal. Simi Valley Pontiac GMC Buick topped this year’s list with $65.1 million in 1998 revenues. Valencia-based RAM Enterprises, a distributor of electronic connectors and connector contact accessories, came in at No. 2, posting $15.8 million in revenues. Richard Monstein, owner of RAM, started the company in 1985 after working for a decade in the electronic manufacturing business. He said he opened RAM because no other company was making electronic connector equipment in bulk for telecommunications and aerospace companies. With the growth in technology fields, the company has taken off, Monstein said. “It’s a very niche business,” he said, “but it’s growing.” RAM was awarded a quality assurance award from Lockheed Martin Corp. in March. To qualify as a minority-owned business, a minority person must have majority ownership. Businesses were rated on 1998 revenues. Computer Palace, a Glendale computer retailer, is No. 3 on the list, with $14.3 million in 1998 revenues. Rounding out the top five were No. 4-ranked Photo Max Film Supplies Co., a Glendale-based wholesale supplier of photographic materials which posted $9 million in revenues, and No. 5-ranked Trans-National Motor Cars Inc., a Burbank car dealership with $8.9 million in revenues. Businesses on this year’s list range from security companies to market research to computer sales. No. 9 on the list is Garcia Research Associates, posting $1.5 million in 1998 revenues. “We’re growing at a nice and steady pace,” said owner Carlos Garcia. He started the company in 1990, Garcia said, because he was tired of working for abusive bosses and wanted to create a pleasant place to work. He refinanced his home and gathered up money to start the Burbank firm, which specializes in researching the Latino market. In the last year, the company has seen a boom, part of which he attributes to corporate America’s growing interest in the Latino market. “They finally notice that Hispanics are over 11 percent of the population nationally and approaching 50 percent in L.A. County,” he said. “Hispanics spend $1 billion a day in disposable income.” Garcia started working in the research field in 1980 and has specialized in the Latino market since the very beginning. “I really do feel I’m helping the Hispanic consumer to get some respect,” he said. “This is what I love to do and so I’ve stuck with it.” Red-Horse’s business is No. 10 on the list. Her company specializes in corporate advertising on plastic objects, or lucites. “Anything you can put a logo on,” she said. She opened the business after working for a stockbroker, where her job was to find promotional items, have them emblazoned with a company logo and distribute them. “I always ran into problems,” Red-Horse said. “People said what we need is someone who specializes.” So Red-Horse decided to fill that niche herself, and Executive Specialties was born. In addition to running her business, Red-Horse speaks around the country to encourage Native American entrepreneurship. A film that Red-Horse wrote, produced, directed and starred in premiered at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival. The film, “Naturally Native,” is loosely based on her obstacles as a Native American businesswoman. It is scheduled to open in theaters this fall. “I like being an American Indian role model to other American Indians,” Red-Horse said.

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