Edmond Brown is not in business for himself. The local entrepreneur has a greater vision for the community and region where he works and serves on a number of local organizations. He recently invited business writer Will Buss to his office to talk about his business and his views toward achieving economic prosperity when all involved work together:
What is ELB Enterprises Inc.?
“There are three separate corporations. There’s the service side. We do janitorial service; we provide janitorial supplies and equipment; and we provide construction and final clean up.”
When did you establish the business?
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“We technically opened in November of 1993. It was in the basement of my home. We were a supply company, and then we evolved and got serious about it in 2000. It moved it out of my house and concentrated on growing the business.”
What were you doing before you became an entrepreneur?
“Prior to that, I worked for 15 years at Monsanto as a lab analyst in Sauget. Monsanto was beginning to downsize, and I was going to school part time, which would have forced me on to a rotated shift. I had the seniority to stay, but I would have forced me to a rotated shift, which would have made going to school impossible. So I took an early retirement package and went back to school to get my degree.”
What did you do after that?
“I went to school, got my degree and I worked for a couple of organizations. I worked for New York Life for a period of time as an insurance agent and financial planner. Then I worked for a period as a sales manager for a manufacturer. And then I decided to start my own company, because I didn’t see myself working in corporate America. I had a vision, and I had something that I wanted to do. So I started my own company. We started on the supply side and evolved into the other services. We are a direct distributor, probably one of a handful in the nation, and probably the only one in this region, the only minority-owned direct distributor for major manufacturers.”
Where is your client base?
“My reach is primarily the western part of Illinois and the eastern part of Missouri. We go as far south as Cape Girardeau, we go as far west as Springfield, we have gone out to Kansas City. We are not as far reaching in Illinois. We primarily serve this region.”
How have you gotten involved within the community?
“I am on the board of directors for the St. Louis Minority Business Council. Their mission is to make doing business with minority vendors a common practice with major corporations. I am also on the board for the St. Louis Regional Chamber of Commerce. I am also on the board for a group called the East Side Aligned. They were designed to assist and improve the quality of life for young people through education and life skills. I participate and work with the NAACP with their economic development.”
What is your vision for the region’s economy?
“There are actually more opportunities to grow. In today’s climate, we’re beginning to look at and understand that there is an economic shift. There was a period of time when the economy was local. We saw it locally, regionally or we saw it locally within the United States. It’s a world economy now. We are a world market. Therefore, we have to use everyone whose available. Every region has to really concentrate on how they will grow. There are more opportunities for folks like myself with certain skill sets to get involved. My mission is to help improve the quality of life in communities such as Alorton. In the grand scheme of things, I want to dispel myths about doing business with a minority is more costly, when in fact it has been proven that more companies that use diverse businesses their costs has gone down and quality has gone up. Being in a community like this, it helps to improve the quality of life and improve the whole region’s quality of life. I can employ people here; I can pay taxes for a region such as Alorton and I can help support the infrastructure within Alorton. Therefore, they don’t need government assistance. That is part of my mission. That’s why I still live in East St. Louis. When I was working at Monsanto, I worked with Junior Achievement. A young student I was talking with said, ‘You work for Monsanto, right?’ I said, ‘Yes.” He said, ‘And that’s your car out there?’ I had a nice shiny new sports coupe. I said, ‘Yes.’ He was asking all of these questions, and then he said, ‘And you live in East St. Louis?’ And then he said, ‘Why?’”
What did you tell him?
“I told him the story about farming. And he looked at me, and I said, ‘Do you know about farming?’And he said, ‘No.’ I said that when you farm, if you plant crops and you harvest it, if you don’t put anything back into the soil, you don’t tend to it, you don’t fertilize it, you don’t put any nutrients back into it, what happens? It will die. And then I said, if you have a city, it doesn’t matter which one, and you keep reaping from it, and put nothing back into the city, what happens to the city? You have to understand that the plight of East St. Louis and the surrounding community is no different from any other urban community, like Detroit and others. From that scenario, if you have an income of $80,000 a year and that’s what you’re living on to afford a car and a home and everything, and if 10 years later you’re down to $30,000, how do you make it? That’s what’s happening. East St. Louis had a population of 80,000 people, and now it’s down to 30,000. How are we going to help? It doesn’t matter what or who does it.”
How can these communities become prosperous?
“We have to be smarter as we’re trying to grow from an economy of scale as a region. Regionally, we have to make sure that we all benefit. It’s no longer East St. Louis competing against Belleville or East St. Louis competing St. Louis. It’s this region competing against China, this region competing Bolivia. Scott Air Force Base does not only impact Belleville. It impacts the region. So we have to become more regional. So that is my point in getting involved in more organizations and promoting that aspect and becoming more regional. Therefore, we have to start thinking along those lines and how you and I can work together.”
Why do have this vision?
“I am very committed to this region. I am very committed to this community. I think there’s some real positive things that can happen when good people work toward a common goal. I think there are good people in East St. Louis, as well as there are good people in Belleville and good people in St. Louis...There is enough. There is not a zero sum game out here. There is enough that we can all benefit, and we can all be profitable. There are some people who believe that capitalism is bad, as a friend of mine said. I said, no, capitalism, in itself, isn’t bad. Capitalism is like religion. It’s how you practice it. Because some people practice religion in a certain form that slaughter people or kill people, that’s not the religion. It’s how people practice that religion in the name of religion. Capitalism is the same way. Capitalism, in itself, isn’t bad. It’s how people may practice it through exploitation. Then, it’s bad. Capitalism, in itself, is not bad.”
Contact reporter Will Buss at firstname.lastname@example.org or 618-239-2526.
Job: President, founder and owner, ELB Enterprises Inc. at 4709 Bond Ave. in Alorton (618-394-1912; www.elbenterprises.com)
Outlook: “I am very committed to this region. I am very committed to this community. I think there’s some real positive things that can happen when good people work toward a common goal.”