Last week, The Austin African-American Business Networking Association held its quarterly business mixer at Harris Bank’s Austin Branch.

It was a Friday night, the end of a busy week for many small business owners. Some of them might have wanted to just go home, grab a bite to eat and get a good night’s rest to prepare for the next day’s challenges. But they took the time to show up because they understand the importance of networking.

Branch manager Gerald Lewis and I (I serve as president of the AAABNA) hosted the mixer, proving that big corporations and small businesses can work hand in hand, helping one another and their communities.

More than 50 small business owners attended the event, including the president of Harris Bank and a team from Wal-Mart. They passed around business cards and shared details about how they got started.

Some offered advice about overcoming some of the challenges they had faced in their fields. The event was also a lesson in target marketing. Each business got a chance to bask in the spotlight and reach out to potential customers.

Where else can you find a spa owner, day care operator, a jewelry designer, insurance broker, a newspaper publisher and a home decorator, all in the same room? Many of the business owners made valuable connections.

For example, the operators of the Sankofa Cultural Arts & Business Centers reached out to a musician who will soon be providing music for some of the center’s events.

A local painter connected with a home contractor. They might soon be collaborating on projects in the near future. Even a local sign manufacturer showed up. When it was time for him to step up to the microphone, he said it best, stating, “At some point in time we will all need a sign. I hope you will think of me when your time comes.” That’s what the mixers are all about-reaching people who may have never otherwise crossed your path.

An up-and-coming caterer provided the food for the event, and a local coffee shop donated coffee and baked goods. Several of the people in the room were quick to grab their business cards, planning to use their services for future events.

Elected officials also know the importance of such opportunities. Ald. Emma Mitts and Ald. Ed Smith attended the mixer to show their support for the small businesses which are so vital to their communities.

A representative from Sen. Barack Obama’s office was also there, to show his commitment to the businesses of Austin.

Businesses are the backbone of our communities and the Austin African-American Business Networking Association is making sure that small companies and proprietors have the information and resources they need to continue to stand tall, especially in these trying economic times.

In addition to the business mixers and other events, AAABNA also offers entrepreneurial classes and workshops. For more information call 773/626-4506.