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?

one of the largest providers of temporary services in Michigan. And with a staff of nearly 1,500, the company is one of the largest employers on the BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE 100 list. But Barfield says because of the nature of his business, his firm mainly caters to more high-skilled workers; however, lower skilled positions are occasionally available. “The jobs that we’re filling are typically high- skilled, high-paying positions that are in demand by our clients who look to us for their staffing needs,” Barfield says. “On any given day we have several hundred openings for skilled positions.”

David Bing, CEO of the Bing Group, a steel processing, metal stamping and seat assembly company in Detroit, says the problem boils down to dollars and cents. He says the vast majority of minority firms don’t have the financial resources to commit to training unskilled workers. “The problem that you have in many of these cases is training. As long as the government is going to kick people off welfare, then they need to make an investment to us in the business community to ensure that funds are available to train people. That’s the major issue. I can hire somebody, but if I have to hire them and train them for a year or two, then obviously that’s a negative financial impact.”

“Business in America is not just about being able to make bucks,” says Swinton. “It’s about having power in a local community. It seems to me that we are not going to ever solve these problems if we are always going to be at 2% and 3% ownership and then are trying to force the people who do own the businesses to treat us like we want them to hire us.”

Is there any reason to be optimistic? Some board members believe so. One promising sign is the increased activity of private sector African American entrepreneurs forming strategic alliances. Recent examples reported in BE include Dumas. Simeus, the former COO of TLC Beatrice who joint-ventured with Dallas-based MESBIC Ventures Holding Co. to form Simeus Foods International. The alias-Fort Worth-based company has annual sales pegged at more than $100 million. Another example is Donzell arks, the Chicago-based theater operator who recently joint- ventured with Cineplex Odeon to bring black-owned movie theaters to Chicago’s inner-city neighborhoods of Chatham, North Lawndale and Chicago Lawn.

But the board believes there’s still much ore to do. “I think there has been some increased access to both debt and equity capital for African Americans,” says Boston. But, he adds, “I think on balance it would be very difficult to sustain the rate of growth as it has been over the last decade, at least from 1982-92.”

Gourmet’s Goldston has an eye toward the horizon. As his company positions itself for an increasingly competitive marketplace, he realizes that to be successful and remain competitive, minority-owned companies will have to strategically align themselves with similar minority-owned companies. “What I see in the future is a takeover of the mega companies in

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