Central Research in Lowell, Arkansas, is a people-information firm specializing in the identification, verification, and documentation of deceased and incarcerated individuals as well as Freedom of Information Act support services. Johnny Dillard, a service-disabled veteran, started the company in 1999 with two part-time employees. The firm currently has over 50 full-time employees using technology that allows them to review over 250,000 files a week.
A successful participant in SBA’s 8(a) Business Development Program, Johnny was the 2011 Arkansas Minority Small Business Person of the Year, and the 2012 Arkansas Veteran Small Business Champion. He was also one of eight finalists in the 2013 Small Business Tournament of Veteran Champions sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation and Spike TV.
Inc. Magazine rated Central Research as #1572 in its list of the 5000 fastest growing companies in the United States in 2013. The company was the third fastest growing company in Arkansas with a 253% growth in revenue over the past three years.
In 2010 Johnny helped draft two legislative bills to assist service-disabled veterans. Arkansas Governor Beebe signed these bills into law in April 2011. Arkansas Act 882 gives all state agencies a 5% goal for doing business with service-disabled veterans, and Arkansas Act 883 adds service-disabled veterans to the definition of “minority” under the state’s Minority Business Economic Development Act.
Johnny was one of the founders of the Task Force for Veteran Entrepreneurs in Washington, DC. He is currently active in the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Marine Corps League, and American Legion. Central Research was the Arkansas winner of the American Legion’s award for hiring veterans.
Tobacco World and Variety
Sometimes life’s best lessons take the long way home. Ervin Lewis, from Cotton Plant, Arkansas, went to Iraq to learn his. While serving in Iraq with the Arkansas National Guard, a roadside explosive device severely injured his legs. He spent three months in an Army Rehabilitation Hospital and was discharged from the National Guard.
Wounded but not broken, Ervin and his wife, Terrie, returned to Cotton Plant and began to pick up the pieces of their lives. In this small town, like much of the Delta, jobs are hard to come by. With few options, they decided to create their own jobs and open a smoke shop and small convenience store. This business, at best, was problematic. For many years people and businesses had been leaving Cotton Plant. Much of the downtown was gone or decaying with whole blocks missing. The nearest grocery store was at Brinkley, 11 miles away.
Using their own money, they took over a long vacant storefront on Main Street and set to work. Working with Deborah Slayton and Ryan Ritchie from SBA microlender alt.Consulting, they fine-tuned their business plan. Alt.Consulting also approved a microloan to help them open Tobacco World and Variety in August 2011.
This business has not only survived, it has grown. Cotton Plant Mayor Ronnie Conley says that Tobacco World and Variety is one of the few new businesses to open in Cotton Plant in the past 20 years. He is very pleased with the ongoing assistance that SBA, SCORE, and SBA microlenders alt. Consulting and ACCION have given his city.
“The SBA has been a Godsend. We are turning this thing around. We have three more new businesses that we will be announcing soon, and the SBA and its resource partners were instrumental in all of them,” he said.
Woods Group Architects
SBA’s 2013 8(a) Graduate Firm of the Year is Woods Group Architects, Inc. of Little Rock, owned by Ron Bené Woods.
Ron Woods always had an intense desire to be creative and be of service to others. He loved to draw and work with arts and crafts, and his goal coming out of high school was to be an architect. Those plans were slightly derailed after he received a scholarship to attend Morehouse College in Atlanta, Ga., in a dual-degree program with the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) in mechanical engineering. After two years at Morehouse, Ron’s mechanical drafting professor, who was also an architect, noted Ron’s talent and convinced him to switch majors. Ron gave up the engineering scholarship. With the support of his parents, financial and otherwise, he transferred full time to Georgia Tech into a field of study he really loved. Upon graduation he was immediately offered an internship with Cromwell Firm in Little Rock, the largest architecture firm in Arkansas at the time.
Ron founded Woods Group Architects in the fall of 1992 as Architecture Innovations Group after winning a contract for a 30,000 square foot multi-purpose complex for Philander Smith College, Arkansas’ oldest Historically Black College and University. Today, Woods Group Architects is one of the largest minority-owned architectural firms in Arkansas and a graduate of the U.S. Small Business Administration’s 8(a) Business Development Program. The 8(a) Program helps socially and economically disadvantaged entrepreneurs gain access to the economic mainstream of American society. Woods Group Architects entered the 8(a) Business Development Program in 1996, and received several contracts from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development during its tenure.
The firm currently has six employees, and revenues in excess of $800,000. Its projects include high-profile public facilities, educational facilities from K-12 to colleges and universities, commercial retail developments, religious facilities, and custom residential designs. The company collaborated on the William Jefferson Clinton Presidential Library and the new terminal expansion for the Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport.