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Miami Herald - Sep. 26, 2004

The Task Force on Urban Economic Revitalization

highlights the business successes that have occurred in the past five years in underdeveloped areas of Miami-Dade County.


L. George Yap remembers when the business he started in 1977 grossed $125 a week. He was the sole employee, and his wife worked two jobs to support the family.

Yap, a Chinese Jamaican who came to Miami in 1976, slowly built his tofu manufacturing business into a $5 million company that today employs 70 people.

Monday, Yap said his company, Leasa Industries, can continue to grow thanks to a $1 million loan he is receiving from the Task Force on Urban Economic Revitalization.

''They help yo130923-1.phpu so that you can create jobs and so your business can grow,'' Yap said of the task force.

Attending the task force's leadership breakfast in downtown Miami on Monday, Yap stood with several other minority business owners, all thankful to the task force for helping them to launch or cultivate their businesses.

In turn, the business owners are helping the community, Yap said.

At Leasa Industries, where Yap is president and CEO, the workers are former welfare and food stamp recipients, school dropouts and ex-convicts who live in Overtown, Liberty City and Opa-locka.

With the loan, Yap said, he will expand the company, now located at 2450 NW 76th St., in Miami, to a new site in Poinciana Park on the western edge of Liberty City. The expansion means 60 more jobs he'll be able to offer to the community.

''Given a chance, these people have become the best workers,'' said Yap, a Kendall resident.

The idea behind the leadership breakfast, the first to be sponsored by the 7-year-old task force, is to highlight business successes such as Yap and to make the community more aware of the opportunities the task force provides, said Karen P. Moore, the group's executive director.

Based in downtown Miami at 155 S. Miami Ave., the task force has awarded $15 million through direct loans to 50 businesses in the 17 targeted urban areas of Miami-Dade County.

The task force will look to use the $17 million to $20 million that it has remaining in its revolving loan fund to assist many more businesses, Moore said.

The Task Force on Urban Economic Revitalization began in 1997 at the request of Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas, and has been helping businesses in targeted urban areas since 1999 through funding from Miami-Dade County general funds and Section 108 federal loan programs, Moore said.

Daniel Fils-Aime, a task force board member and vice chairman of Miami-Dade Chamber of Commerce, said he is excited about the task force's mission and wants the Haitian community to tap into the economic resource.

''Haitians are hard-working people and they try to help themselves and others,'' said Fils-Aime, a Haitian immigrant who owns the Miami Mini Bus Transportation Service. ``At the task force we like to help, but you have to encourage people to apply for loans.''

The 7 a.m. breakfast program, which was held at the Radisson Miami Hotel near downtown Miami, attracted about 360 people.

The keynote speaker at the 2 ½-hour event was Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Rudy Crew, who told the audience that more needs to be done -- and will be done -- to better prepare students to meet today's economic demands and challenges.

''Education is the basis for economic revitalization,'' Crew said. ''This is a land of diamonds,'' he said of the district's students who live in the urban areas the task force targets. ``We have to buff them, shape them and uncover them from their underdeveloped communities.''

High schools, he said, have to better educate students on what is needed to succeed in the business world. Crew asked for internship programs at local businesses for 11th-grade students.

After the event, Crew expressed an excitement for what the task force has accomplished but reiterated the goal is not just about bringing money into these communities.

''We have to leave a legacy for how young people can step into these roles,'' he said.