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Igniting the Engine Under Black Business Growth

Encouraging black business is critical in boosting the economy

Submitted by: Francesca Rheannon

Posted: Aug 09, 2011 – 08:42 PM EST

Tags: diversity, inclusion, jobs, innovation, business, economy, green economy, csr, sustainability


By Francesca Rheannon

Poverty is at an all-time high in America. According to a 2010 report by the US Census Bureau, “one in seven Americans now live below the official poverty line of $10,830 for a single adult and $22,050 for a family of four. For children, the ratio is nearly one in five.” (The idea that people living above the line are doing well is, of course, a travesty. A living wage would bring incomes to roughly double the poverty level.) 

The highest rates of poverty are, as always, in minority communities. It all comes down to jobs. And, now, the jobless recovery is turning into the jobless double dip, threatening to shrink jobs even more.

The economy is sick – and when it gets a cold, communities of color get pneumonia. That's what's happening with unemployment. Less than half of African-American men now have full-time jobs. It's even worse for young men between 18 and 29: only 43% have the kind of full-time employment that can pull them out of poverty.

And it's not just men. The official unemployment rate for African-Americans in general is 16.2% – 40% among youth. That doesn't count those who are working part-time or have given up looking for work. 

One key strategy of battling unemployment in African-American communities is growing the black businesses that will hire them. While there are 1.5 million black-owned businesses in the US, the African-American business sector still only makes up about seven percent of all businesses. If African-American businesses are to be represented in proportion to the total population of African-Americans, that rate would have to double.

But where will the capital come from to do that? The banks aren’t doing much lending to businesses in African-American communities (or any communities) these days – although they were happy to sell predatory loans to black home owners, a major cause of the mortgage meltdown that ended up infecting the entire global economy.

A significant portion of the funds to support the growth of the black business sector will have to come from – horrors! – government, through government procurement contracts  with black businesses. That’s because those contracts can support the kinds of good jobs, especially in manufacturing, that are all too scarce. They have a good multiplier effect, as well. 

Will government step up to the plate? Since April, federal procurement from black-owned businesses has fallen from $2.9 billion to $502 million according to John Templeton, co-founder of National Black Business Month (NBBM). He told CSRwire, “We need to end the black business blind spot.” Templeton suggests stimulating the economy by increasing the amount of spending going to small and black-owned businesses from $8 billion to $30 billion.

One of the goals of NBBM is to raise the profile of black businesses that are available for contracts with government on the local, state and federal level. “We've seen that the federal procurement from black businesses triples from the normal average during the month,” Templeton said. 

NBBM rates all states that have at least 1000 black-owned businesses according to 10 factors spurring development of the black business sector. They include leadership from state governors in promoting minority businesses; regular monitoring – North Carolina, Maryland, Florida and Texas, for example, require quarterly reporting on procurement from black-owned businesses; and access to capital, such as provided by Minnesota’s minority loan fund or Maryland’s policy of depositing state funds in banks that loan to minority businesses.

But in an environment saturated by propaganda about the need for spending cuts, private investment is critical, too. That’s why this year NBBM is featuring the campaign called 31 Ways, 31 Days. “We’d like to see how many companies could achieve at least one new contract each day of the month,” Templeton told CSRwire. 

The “ways” include making a deposit in a black-owned bank locally or online (August 1), getting a quote from a black contractor (August 10) or buying technology services from a black IT company (August 31).

Of central importance to NBBM is the promotion of manufacturing firms owned by African-Americans. So NBBM is shining a light on innovation by African-American innovators and patent-holders through its Catapult Innovation Competition.

One thousand African-Americans gain US patents each year. They include innovators in green technology such as Thomas Mensah, who has patented inventions in the fields of electric vehicle batteries, wind power and high speed rail. Excellatron in Atlanta is pioneering storage batteries that could be used in solar and wind power applications.

Another African-American pioneer is former White House “Green Jobs Czar” Van Jones. He’s sparking a movement to revitalize the American Dream and make it a reality. His newly founded American Dream initiative is “a decentralized, open-source movement, striving to give a voice to the 60-70 percent of Americans who believe in ‘jobs not cuts.’”

Growing the black business sector and bringing green jobs to communities of color will not only help those communities; such efforts can provide a model of job creation for all communities – one we desperately need right now. When the minority business sector is healthy, you can be sure all Americans will be closer to realizing the American Dream.

About Francesca Rheannon

Francesca is CSRwire's Talkback Managing Editor. An award-winning journalist, Francesca is co-founder of Sea Change Media. She produces the Sea Change Radio’s series, Back to The Future, and co-produces the Interfaith Center of Corporate Responsibility’s podcast, The Arc of Change. Francesca’s work has appeared at SocialFunds.com, The CRO and E Magazine, and she is a contributing writer for CSRwire. Francesca hosts the nationally syndicated radio show, Writers Voice with Francesca Rheannon.

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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