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Founders Award Honorees

Julius Morgan

Julius Morgan is a man who commands respect wherever he goes. A burly man who favors baseball caps and warmups and rarely puts on suit and tie, he can operate in any environment — with inner-city tough guys or alongside Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson. These abilities to adapt to any situation and stand up to the strongest opposition have proven invaluable.

Beginning in 1986, Morgan was in charge of securing the considerable funds needed to launch the Milwaukee Enterprise Center (MEC) incubator. When a number of community service groups lined up to lay claim to their piece of the pie, Morgan stood up to them, demanding that the money be used to support the development of new businesses and to combat poverty, as intended. "All the community vultures — the "poverty pimps" — wanted a piece of the action. They wanted that grant money," Morgan says without flinching. After initial resistance, the community service organizations pulled together to become a significant part of the stakeholder support network for the MEC.

Back then, Morgan wasn't quite sure what the business incubation concept was all about, but he knew the importance of providing an environment for the growth of small businesses and the creation of jobs in the inner city. "I was awed by the idea, what can I say?" he says, and he absorbed as much information as he could at the first NBIA conference in 1987. "I was struck by the fact that there were so many people out there doing what we were trying to do in Milwaukee and there was an attempt to organize all these people to create a standard for the industry."

Back in Milwaukee, he went to work setting his own standards and overcoming what he calls his biggest obstacle — garnering the community's continued support of MEC. He took every chance he could get to show off the facility, opening the conference room and training center to the community, and even allowing gangs to meet in the building as long as they didn't engage in any illegal activity.

Eventually, MEC became the center for economic development in the area. Morgan went on to develop a second incubator, MEC South, in cooperation with the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. It opened in 1994.

Morgan became the first minority representative on the NBIA board of directors when he was elected in 1990. He helped prove than an incubator in the central city could be sophisticated, effective and a catalyst for neighborhood revitalization. Morgan is the only NBIA member to have hosted two NBIA conferences — in 1993 and again in 1997. In the process of preparing for these conferences, he personally raised more than $100,000 in sponsorship money and garnered the support of state and local institutions and governments.

Morgan retired from the NBIA board in 1996 and from MEC in December 1999. He still lives in Milwaukee.

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