Blown Away By Katrina

Among the devastation were more than 60,000 black-owned businesses, including 19 B.E. 100s firms. Can these companies and the jobs they provided be restored?

convoy of cars and one of his company’s vans.

Rhodes is unsure what will become of the business that once transported 40 to 50 people daily. He has a contract with the state of Louisiana to transport Medicaid recipients to hospital visits, but Rhodes is contending with a n
umber of major problems. “It’s a hell of a feeling to wake and be homeless,” he says. “I get a little teary when I talk about this because this has to do with my pride. I wake up depressed every morning. I am very proud of what I have accomplished with my business. I’ve never had to get assistance from the government, and now I am applying for food stamps and welfare.”

Rhodes, who is awaiting word on a missing cousin, is not sure what steps the government will take to help his business, which was not insured for natural disasters. Thus far, his family received $360 per adult from the American Red Cross. Rhodes and two other family members received $2,000 checks from FEMA on Sept. 12. All he can do is wait and hope. “I’m hoping that through FEMA I can get back on my feet,” he says. “Small businesses are the lifeblood of New Orleans. They have to come back.”

Liberty’s McDonald, a member of the rebuilding commission recently formed by Mayor C. Ray Nagin (eight blacks and eight whites sit on the 16-member board), is also optimistic. “We have our work cut out for us but, hey, black folks have never had it easy,” he says. “We’ve always had to work as if there was a Depression. When you really stop and think about it, black folks, for the most part, have had to struggle for everything that we had. So what makes this different?”

The SBA’s Cornelius is optimistic about the possible contracting opportunities for black businesses. “I can assure you that we’re going to rebuild New Orleans with the fact that 67% of it is African American, and we’re going to have a good and solid representation of African Americans in those rebuilding efforts.”

As the debris is cleared and the Gulf Coast rebuilds, many questions remain regarding the fate of black business in that region. There’s certainly a lot of work to be done, from environmental cleanup, construction, and rebuilding infrastructure. Without significant participation in the rebuilding process, these businesses and the jobs they create will also be swept away.
– Additional reporting by Topher Sanders, Nicole Marie Richardson & Joyce Jones

Black Owned Businesses
Number of Sales and Number of
State Firms receipts ($1,000) Employees
Louisiana 40,252 1,994,686 21,655

Mississippi 25,004 1,333,119 11,450

BLACK BUSINESS GIVES BACK
In Katrina’s wake, the broadcast news was relentless in airing segments that depicted the plight of the predominantly black residents of the devastated areas. While the debate rages on regarding the government’s response to the disaster, many executives and employees at BE 100S companies across the nation took action to assist hurricane victims.

  • Thompson Hospitality (No. 23 on the BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE list with $165.6 million in sales) plans to provide
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