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08.10.2011 - 09:00AM

Category: Corporate Social Responsibility

An overlooked tiger in America's economic tank


August marks National Black Business Month. Its founder looks back on the history.

By John William Templeton

By 1892, poor land management was beginning to sap the life out of the country's soils, but George Washington Carver began to experiment with peanuts and other legumes as a way to add nitrogen back to the fields.

Three years before rampant over-speculation in railroads and precious metals fueled the Panic of 1893, the worst depression in American History to that point, Lewis Latimer authored the first significant book on electrical engineering.

Carver is credited with reviving the fertility of American agriculture. Latimer's writings and drawings inspired some of the largest businesses in the world.

In the 1970s, during another economic recession, Roy Clay opened the door to large-scale consumer electronics by creating electronic test equipment to eliminate electrical shorts in the Silicon Valley; Dr. Frank Greene designed a circuit board for the supercomputers that propelled the space program; and Gerald A. Lawson created the first arcade game and cartridge video game console.

Billion dollar industries have grown from Clay's, Greene's and Lawson's advances in the four decades since.

In the documentary A Great Day in Gaming: From Queens to Silicon Valley, The Gerald A. Lawson Story, the overwhelming role this public housing resident played in the creation of a now $23 billion video gaming industry is portrayed in a very emotional way as he interacts with dozens of today's gamers.

These history lessons help underscore the contributions brewing in the labs and factories of today's African-American innovators - 1,000 of whom register patents each year. During the eighth National Black Business Month this August, we're calling attention to this critically important source of competitive genius through the Catapult Innovation Competition.

New patent holders like Mike Hurst of San Diego-based ChloroFill; Northern Virginia's Dr. Stephany Jean Head of OpRisk Associates; the East Bay's Charlene Childers-Coleman at Sensory Acumen; or the newly-public firm of Amarantus BioSciences, led by the father and son team of Dr. John and Gerald Commissiong in Sunnyvale, are working on the fourth wave of black innovation in the American history.

The United States is again at the precipice of economic ruin. However, if these lessons of the past teach us anything it's that black achievement creates innovation that can put us all back to work. During the month of August, founders of National Black Business Month encourage reviewing the annual State of Black Business report to learn more about such innovators, and to seek out at least one black business each day of the month - calling it 31 Ways, 31 Days.

The persistence of the 16.2 percent unemployment rate among blacks for the past several months is a call-to-arms for the entire economy. African-Americans account for seven percent of the total U.S. GDP, on a scale with countries like India or Russia, and 1.9 million black companies comprise seven percent of all U.S. firms. Until this sector revives through the growth of new manufacturing enterprises, the entire domestic and global economy will be slowed.

Since April, federal procurement from black-owned businesses fell from $2.9 billion to $502 million. Private companies must seek out black innovators such as our Catapult competitors for strategic alliances that can create jobs. Additionally, community-based groups such as Black Veterans for Social Justice in Brooklyn are preparing workers for employment, particularly when 14.7 percent of black veterans from the Gulf War are out of work.

When New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and George Soros chose to tackle the structural barriers to employment, they raised the bar beyond mere photo ops and award dinners.

Only 0.9% of nearly 200,000 black high school students in New York City take calculus, but an icon like Roy Clay, a member of the Silicon Valley Engineering Hall of Fame, received a degree in mathematics in 1951, and still operates his firm Rod-L Electronics today. The more we promote Clay, Greene and Lawson and others such as Dr. Thomas Mensah and Dr. Lonnie Johnson, the more students will pursue these fields.

Our nation will not move ahead with one-seventh of its economy lagging. Working with African-American inventors and black-owned businesses lights a spark that can create jobs and fire up global markets - it has happened before.

About John William Templeton

John William Templeton is executive editor of blackmoney.com and author of A Piece of the Pie: State of Black Business, 8th edition. With professional engineer Frederick E. Jordan, Sr., he founded National Black Business Month occurring each August since 2004.

Notes: Jim Cates, veteran Silicon Valley CIO and author of Climbing the Ladder of Business Intelligence: Happy About Creating Excellence through Enabled Intuition, will be discussing The Innovation Life Cycle with Commission during the Founders Symposium, August 15 in San Francisco.

Contact blackbusinessmonth.com to bring the documentary A Great Day in Gaming and the economic development benefits of National Black Business Month to the communities which need to see the results of corporate social responsibility.

This commentary is written by a valued member of the CSRwire contributing writers' community and expresses this author's views alone.



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