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?

repercussions of that reality need no elaboration. No job means no income, which means poverty–not just economically but, too often, spiritually as well.

So while minority businesses may be doing their best to employ African Americans, it’s clear much more needs to be done.

The BE Board of Economists met recently in New York City to analyze the employment picture and posed this question: With the continued steady growth of black-owned businesses in the United States, what substantive impact is that growth having on the larger employment picture for African Americans?

Present at this discussion were David H. Swinton, president of Benedict College; Margaret C. Simms, vice president for research at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies; Cecilia A. Conrad, an economics professor at Pomona College; Marcus Alexis, a professor of economics and management and strategy at Northwestern University; Lucy Reuben, dean of the school of business at South Carolina State University; Thomas D. Boston, an economics professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology; and Andrew F. grimmer, president of Washington, D.C.-based grimmer & Co. The board was joined by John Jeffries, a visiting associate professor at Columbia University.

As a whole, the board readily agreed that black-owned businesses have made substantive gains in growth, sales and in the number of people they employ. Whether in industries ranging from manufacturing to communications or technology, African American-owned businesses have made great strides over the last several decades. Says Conrad, “The case has to be made that it’s not just that we’re small and struggling, but that black firms are hiring African Americans. That we continue to do so is an important thing.” But is it enough?

“The point is,” says BE Executive Editor Alfred Edmond, “the area where unemployment remains at its most intense is in black communities. [Black- owned] businesses are in the best position to be a key to leveraging job creation in those communities, since they are more likely to locate there and hire from there.” Indeed employment growth among the BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE 100 firms has been phenomenal. The employment capacity has grown from slightly over 9,267 in 1973, when the list was first created, to over 42,000 in 1995. But the board also agreed that for there to be substantial and lasting impact on the black employment picture, African American businesses cannot carry the load alone.

That affirmative action policies should be resuscitated is a given. But beyond that, the board concluded other measures must be enacted now to bolster the growth of small businesses. An ongoing refrain is the call to improve the number and size of strategic alliances for those minority businesses and a continued focus on growing a cadre of African American entrepreneurs. But how to take that growth and cross the bridge from business growth to ownership and wealth creation has been the ongoing dilemma. By analyzing the growth sectors of minority businesses, it’s dear that the fastest growing firms are those that have traditionally had access to government and corporate programs such as the often-

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