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?

maligned Small Business Administration’s 8(a) program, says Simms.

Boston concurs, adding that many minority firms have used those government programs as a springboard and have since moved onto a variety of enterprises. “Traditionally you saw the large firms emerging in areas that were closely associated with various kinds of government contracting, but you also saw diversification taking place,” he says. “Now you see firms emerging in a whole range of industries tied to contracting.”

But despite the best of intentions, the consensus among the board is that specific policies or programs are needed to encourage minority- owned businesses that are not sole proprietorships to prosper in the private sector, then the number of black-owned businesses will continue to grow, but employment levels will never increase.

“The point is, if you want to make a more effective Impact on community development, you need to target your resources on the people who are going to build the plants rather than to the wholesaler or retailer, says Simms. Someone who is going to build the plant that makes the pencils. Not the one who sells the pencils that were made by someone else.”

The already hazy picture of job creation got even cloudier recently thanks to President Clinton’s signing of the Republican-endorsed Welfare Reform Bill. Indeed, the issue came to a head earlier this year when BE publisher Earl G. Graves had a very public disagreement with Clinton during a February visit to Harlem’s Riverside Church. Graves condemned the current welfare policy as putting an unfair burden on small business owners to provide job opportunities for a growing legion of untrained former welfare recipients.

“There is a need to create jobs that will enable people to get off of public assistance,” he
said. “While I believe American business is committed, It IS may job to focus on the bottom line. Our elected officials should not give false hope to people by leading them to believe that businesses will hire them for jobs which require skills they do not have.”

Telling the President that “expressions of goodwill were not new to the African American community,” Graves added they alone were not enough to make a difference to people living in poverty. And from the business owner’s perspective, it is “unrealistic and unfair to expect the private sector in general, and black-owned businesses in particular, to sacrifice profit margins in order to do the government’s job.”
The board members concurred. The consensus was that the current legislation simply asks small business owners to shoulder too much responsibility in training those largely deficient in workplace skills. “The question is how much of a burden do you want to put on companies if the primary point of being in business is to stay in business,” says Reuben. “Companies can only sustain so much in terms of serving as a training ground for people.”

It’s an uncertainty that CEOs like Jon E. Barfield, chairman and CEO of The Bartech Group, will have to deal with as the welfare puzzle takes shape. Bartech is

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