Chicago is Poised for Black Business Success
Black Enterprise Magazine January-March 2019 Issue

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Chicago's iconic Cloud Gate sculpture in AT&T Plaza in Millennium Park

Chicago has a long way to go before it can be considered a bastion of black success. Chicago’s annual black unemployment rate was more than 19% in 2011 (the third-highest rate in the nation), compared with 9.8% for the city as a whole. Small black businesses in Chicago are also haunted by a lack of access to capital and a disloyal black consumer base.

According to a 2007 analysis of consumer market information, residents of black communities in Chicago spend an estimated 64% of their consumer dollars–more than $5.3 billion a year–outside of their neighborhoods, reports The Chicago Reporter.

Furthermore, while 32.9% of the population is black and 22.9% of businesses are black-owned, only 8%, or $96.9 million, of the City of Chicago’s contracts went to black-owned companies from January 2011 to August 2011. (This number does not include contracts that were awarded by entities such as the city’s transportation, schools, and parks authorities, among others.) Despite this, Chicago is home to 16 BE 100s companies, more than New York–where the population density is nearly triple the size of Chicago–and equal to Atlanta, a city that has held a black mayor in office since 1973. Known throughout the country as Black Metropolis, Chicago is a place where politics and business go hand in hand and where black entrepreneurs bankroll black candidates at the highest levels–resulting in the city’s first black mayor in 1983. Additionally, three of the only six blacks to ever hold a seat in the Senate have connections to Chicago, one of whom was the first black female U.S. Senator and another who became the first African American president of the United States.

And while some of the business statistics may be lackluster, Chicago can still be considered a model for cities nationwide on how to build black businesses of scale, as virtually all other metropolitan areas with large black populations struggle to meet the degree of success that Chicagoans have enjoyed.

A Proud Legacy
Whether you’re talking about the Great Migration or the First Migration (when a black man, Jean Baptiste Point Du Sable, Chicago’s founding father, opened a trading post near Lake Michigan to sell canoes, food, and fur in 1779), Chicago has from its very onset been the kind of town where pioneering black people with an entrepreneurial spirit went to make history. The “Second City” has gone on to produce first-class talent and world-renown products that have become household names, such as John H. Johnson and Ebony and Jet magazines; Oprah Winfrey and Harpo Inc.; John Rogers and Ariel Investments L.L.C.; and Judge H. Parker and the Parker House Sausage Co.

In fact, in 1983, a group of Chicago business families led by SoftSheen haircare magnates Ed and BettiAnn Gardner, along with the elite Johnson business men–Ebony‘s John Johnson; Johnson Products Co. founder George Johnson; and the first black GM dealer, Al Johnson (no relation)–used their fortunes to fund a registration drive that signed up 250,000 new voters. It was enough to convince the late Mayor Harold Washington to run for office.

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Marcia Wade Talbert

Marcia is a multimedia content producer focusing on technology at Black Enterprise Magazine. In this capacity she writes and assigns stories to educate readers about social media; digital integration; gadgets, apps, and software for business and professional development; minority tech startups; and careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). In 2012, she received two Salute to Excellence Awards from the National Association of Black Journalists and was recognized by Blacks in Technology (BiT) as one of the Top 10 Black achievers in the tech arena for 2011 at SXSW in Austin, Texas. She has spoken about technology on panels for New York Social Media Week, at The 2012 Rainbow/PUSH Wall Street Summit, as well as at Black Enterprise’s Entrepreneurs Conference and Women of Power Summit. In 2011, chose her as one of 28 People of Color Impacting the Social Web, and through crowdsourcing she was listed as one of BlackWeb2.0's/HP's 50 Most Notable African American Tastemakers in Social Media and Technology for 2010. Since taking on the role of Tech editor in September 2010, she has conceived and produced five cover stories on Technology and/or STEM and countless articles, videos, and slideshows online. Before joining as an interactive general assignment reporter in 2008, she freelanced with Black Enterprise beginning in 2003 while working as the technical editor at Prepared Foods magazine. There she further honed her writing skills and became an authority on food ingredients, including ingredients used in food fortification and enrichment. Meanwhile, her freelancing with Black Enterprise and helped her stay current on issues pertaining to the financial and business welfare of African Americans. As a general reporter for Black Enterprise she attended and reported on the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, where she interviewed Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor and assistant to President Barack Obama and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. Marcia has a Bachelor of Science degree in Agriculture with an emphasis in food science from the University of Minnesota, and a Master of Science degree in journalism from Roosevelt University in Chicago. En route to her secondary degree, she served as the editor-in-chief of the Roosevelt University Torch, a weekly, student-run newspaper. An avid photographer and videographer, Marcia is one of several employees at BLACK ENTERPRISE who interned for the publishing company as a college student. She lives in New Jersey with her husband, a food scientist; her seventeen-month-old daughter; and “The Cat”, but still considers Chicago home.