Atlanta Invests in Ice Cream

Westside Creamery is a mobile dessert food truck that has been in business since 2013. When Debra and Llew Eastern first purchased their food truck, they were originally looking to open a gourmet popcorn and homemade bakery business. After evaluating the potential to become Atlanta’s first full-service, mobile dessert vendor, Debra and Llew purchased Westside Creamery, re-branded the business with their personal touch, and began operations under the existing Westside Creamery logo. Today, Westside Creamery bolsters an intricate menu with their variety of unique homemade pound cakes, root beer and coke floats, and additional options such as a self-serve ice cream sundae bar for wedding services.

Retired from their full-time corporate roles, and in addition to scooping up ice cream, Debra and Llew both serve as educators. Llew is an adjunct instructor for Atlanta Technical College while Debra is an Adjunct Professor at Union Institute and University (UIU) in Ohio; both teach virtually online. Priding themselves on their amazing customer service, their unique element of mobility, and their artisanal hand-dipped ice cream, Westside Creamery is constantly being catered for corporate and private events, TV/movie productions, teacher appreciations, and of course, festivals. Most notably, Westside Creamery has served at Tyler Perry Studios as well as Pinewood Studio, home to 12 of the 22 Marvel movies.

After becoming a local community favorite, Westside Creamery began looking for business consultants and guidance that could help them further solidify their brand. It was at this time that Westside Creamery partnered with the Atlanta MBDA Business Center in order to participate in Invest Atlanta. The Eastern’s quickly realized the benefits that Invest Atlanta offered to small and growing business. After attending  Invest Atlanta’s seminar, Westside Creamery quickly enhanced their business plan and learned about various opportunities for community funding.

Westside Creamery was also recently accepted as one of six out of sixty companies to participate in the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City (ICIC) program. They participated in their first ICIC seminar in December of 2020 where they attended lectures on building capital, effective branding, and strategic positioning. They participated in breakout sessions and received follow-up consultation for specific areas related to the food service industry. Llew and Debra also noted that they have participated in smaller workshops offered by ICIC on handling the coronavirus pandemic for small businesses in food servicing.

“The [ICIC] seminar in December was actually mind-blowing. To be chosen to participate in this resource information forum facilitated by professionals representing financial, academic, and business arenas across the nation was invaluable. I’m extremely happy to be a member of the Atlanta MBDA Centers and see all that they are doing to ensure the success of businesses such as ours.” – Debra Eastern

Growth remains on the agenda for Westside Creamery. In the near future, they plan to expand into a brick-and-mortar while continuing their mobile food presence, and Westside Creamery has partnered with Atlanta MBDA Business Center client T. Dallas Smith & Company to work with them through this process. During the summer 2020, Atlanta Eats Magazine nominated Westside Creamery amongst Atlanta’s MOST outstanding Black-owned restaurants in the mobile dessert category. They are honored to have received this prestigious recognition. As a seasonal company (March thru November), Westside Creamery’s event calendar is already filling up through midsummer. To learn more about Westside Creamery Desserts, make sure to visit their website,, and follow them on Instagram and Facebook.

The MEP National Network™ Connects with Minority Owned Manufacturers

A great article about how the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) and the MBDA have similar goals.

A great article about how the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) and the MBDA have similar goals.

The MEP National Network™ Connects with Minority Owned Manufacturers

November 19, 2019By: Nico Thomas

two women looking at a laptop in a manufacturing facility with robots

Earlier this year, the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA), a part of the U.S. Department of Commerce, celebrated its 50th anniversary. The recognition is much deserved for an agency that has worked hard to strengthen minority owned businesses for over a half-century. Through a network of centers and partners not unlike our own Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) National Network™, the MBDA works with minority owned businesses to create and retain jobs, build scale and capacity, and increase revenues. The drive to increase the competitiveness of underserved businesses by leveraging a network is something that connects the MBDA and the MEP Program.

In 1969, when President Nixon established the Office of Minority Business Enterprise (which became the MBDA in 1979), he stated that assisting minority businesses was a social and economic necessity. Today, as much as ever, President Nixon was right. Roughly 19% of U.S. firms with paid employees are minority owned firms and employ over 9 million Americans. But while minority owned businesses play a big role in U.S. industry, they are underrepresented in the U.S. manufacturing industry. Minority owned manufacturing firms represent only 12.8% of all U.S. manufacturing firms. Beyond the lower representation, minority owned manufacturing firms are also smaller compared to non-minority firms: 84% of minority owned manufacturing firms have fewer than 20 employees compared with 74% for non-minority owned manufacturers. This is an area where the MEP National Network can play a role.

The MEP Advisory Board recently released a Performance Framework report to support the MEP National Network through its Performance and Research Development Working Group. As part of the Performance Framework report, the Working Group made several recommendations for how NIST MEP can improve its portfolio of data analysis and services for MEP Centers in the Network. One of the Working Group’s recommendations was to bolster the Network’s research on underserved segments of the manufacturing marketplace, which includes minority owned manufacturing companies. By better understanding what minority owned manufacturers need and how the MEP National Network has engaged these companies in the past, MEP Centers can increase the impact they have on this underserved segment of the manufacturing marketplace.

Over the last 3 years, the Network completed over 2,400 projects (accounting for about 6% of total projects) with just over 1,200 minority owned manufacturers (representing 7% of all manufacturing clients served). Over the same period, work with minority owned manufacturing clients produced significant economic impacts:

  • Generated just over $2B in new and retained sales,
  • Created and retained just under 21,000 jobs,
  • Helped these companies save just under $148M, and
  • Sparked nearly $485M in new investments.

Although the MEP National Network has done a commendable job generating economic impact for minority owned manufacturing clients, there is still room to do more. In contrast to their representation in the U.S. manufacturing industry, Minority owned manufacturing clients are underrepresented in the MEP National Network. This presents an opportunity for the Network.

Understanding why minority owned manufacturers engage with the MEP National Network and what challenges they anticipate facing soon can inform our interactions, increase the number of clients the Network serves, and increase economic impact generated. Over the past 3 years, the top two reasons that minority owned manufacturers chose to work with a MEP Center were the Center and staff’s expertise, and the cost or price of services offered.

reasons for working with the MEP National Network chart

The strategic challenges of minority owned manufacturers largely mirror those that we see from all the manufacturing clients the Network serves. The top challenge for minority owned manufacturing clients was the category “ongoing continuous improvement and/or cost reduction strategies.” Other findings include:

  • Identifying growth opportunities (54.9%) was the second most reported challenge faced by minority owned manufacturers.
  • Employee recruitment and retention (54.8%) was the second most reported challenge faced by all MEP Center manufacturing clients. This challenge was the third highest reported challenge faced by minority-owned manufacturing clients (46.4%).
  • Product innovation and/or development is the fourth most reported challenge by both minority owned manufacturing clients (41.5%) and all MEP Center manufacturing clients (42.0%).
  • Financing was reported by minority owned manufacturing clients as a challenge 16.2% of the time, while it was only reported by all MEP Center manufacturing clients 9.9% of the time.
  • Exporting and/or global engagement was reported by minority owned manufacturing clients as a challenge 9.2% of the time, while all MEP Center manufacturing clients reported the challenge 6.4% of the time.
client strategic challenges chart

Being able to collect client and project details from the MEP National Network along with feedback on our services from clients is a competitive advantage for the MEP Program. Data is valuable and can be powerful when trying to fulfill a mission as critical as the MBDA’s or the MEP’s. The more effectively we can piece together data to understand the needs of our communities, the better chance we have at effectively serving those communities.



Nico Thomas

Nico Thomas is a Performance Analyst at NIST MEP, working with the Program Evaluation and Economic Research group to help provide tools and information to maximize U.S. manufacturing competitiveness.