Countdown To The 21st Century

How can black companies thrive in the new millennium? Our economists offer imperatives CEOs must embrace now

growth areas of the present or the past,” says Simms. “Be alert to innovations in production or service delivery, as well as new product ideas.”

Administrator Aida Alvarez is President Clinton’s advocate for small business
As part of our Board of Economists meeting targeting objectives for black business for the next millennium, BLACK ENTERPRISE editors and economists sat down with Aida Alvarez, administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration. Alvarez, a former government financial regulator, investment banker and journalist, is the first Hispanic woman to hold a presidential cabinet position. As SBA administrator, she oversees the SBA’s 8(a) minority federal procurement program and directs the agency, which spends about $11 billion a year in support of the nation’s small businesses.
BE: How will the new changes and regulations that will affect eligibility to the SBA’s 8(a) program affect black-owned businesses? Will this mean there are fewer contracts available for blacks, which might instead go to white female-owned businesses?

ALVAREZ: I can tell you that there are a lot of disgruntled women owners who say Clinton has issued an executive order where he set a 5% goal for women in the procurement area and to date we haven’t made it up to 2%. I think we need bigger goals. I don’t want to see minority businesses pitted against women-owned businesses because of the suggestion that there is not enough out there. My view is we’re moving into the 21st century and there will be no single minority in this country. And if we continue to think like a minority, which somehow makes us marginal, then we’re putting ourselves into a box.

BE: What should minority businesses expect from the SBA?

ALVAREZ: I think that there are many firms out there that think they should be getting more business development support every step of the way from us–more coaching and more counseling, if you will. I agree with them. What l said when I took over the SBA is that if l were an 8(a) company, I would have the same expectations I had when I went to college, which is that l would be assigned a counselor. That counselor would talk to me about my business objectives, help me develop a curriculum that would be suitable to my goals and connect with the right courses and professors for me to succeed. But that is not happening in a sufficiently systematic way to suit me. Right now, if there are businesses that are very aggressive and sophisticated to begin with, they’re likely to be the ones to reap the benefits [of working with the SBA].

BE: What role will the SBA play in minority business development as we go forward?
ALVAREZ: The role of the SBA is to look to the future and ensure that, if we have a good e
conomy now, a lot of the strength of the economy is a result of the activity by small business. We want to look at the minority and diversity element and capture all that energy and talent and

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