Sow Entrepreneurship Reap Employment

Black business growth over the last decade hasbeen substantial, but is it enough to change thelarger employment picture for African Americans?

Over the last several years, Nathaniel Goldston, CEO of Atlanta-based Gourmet Companies, has watched with some pride as the fledgling enterprise he started over two decades ago has grown in size and stature to become one of the largest black-owned businesses in the United States. The food service/golf facilities management concern has built a hearty reputation as a leader in its field for quality and service. Perhaps more impressive, Goldston’s business has steadily employed over 1,100 staffers, making it one of the largest employers on the BLACK ENTERPRISE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE 100 listing.

But it hasn’t been easy. “As many of our African American students are leaving the college campuses, they’re finding that employment is a lot more difficult to find,” says Goldston. “There was a time when, if you interviewed with a Fortune 500 firm and were rejected, working for a black company would be a last resort. But I think now many see they can build a future and life for themselves in their own environment and be able to enhance our economy and the ability for the rest of our people to grow.”

Sounds ideal. So you’d think if anyone had reason for optimism about the future of black-owned business, it would be Goldston. But ask the shrewd entrepreneur what he believes the global state of black-owned business will be over the next decade and he hedges his bets. While Goldston feels a boon of black business growth is possible, he says it hinges on the cooperation and trust that minority business owners must have with one another because “with affirmative action being worn away we’re going to realize that we can fight all we want, but basically we’re going to have to grow within ourselves if we want to see something of an explosion in black-owned businesses. The only way to do that is to trust and do business with one another. If not, we’re going to be in some serious trouble.”

Is there reason for such concern? At first glance it would seem as if black-owned businesses are doing a superior job in terms of helping the employment picture. A snapshot of the BE 100s companies tells a tale of its own. In 1985, the BE 100s employed a modest combined staff of 20,970. In 1995, that number easily doubled as the BE 100s firms had a total staff of 51,057. So what’s the problem?

In a word, jobs. There aren’t enough of them. While a booming stock market and rising economy might help to mask some of the symptoms, the employment picture for African Americans is in serious disrepair. According to Andrew grimmer, a former member of the Federal Reserve and BE Board of Economist member, unemployment among blacks may average 1.6 million this year. If grimmer’s prediction pans out, that figure would be equal to 22.3% of the total number of unemployed. This would continue the trend that saw a jobless rate for blacks 1.94 times the national average last year, and 2.23 times that for whites.

The negative

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