The Obama administration recently launched innovative Promise Zones in five U.S. cities, committed the government to programmatic efforts to increase support for those affected by unemployment, and began efforts to address income inequality among American wage earners. We are hopeful that these latest programs begin to move the needle in a substantive way.
Of course, U.S. Black Chambers, Inc. (USBC) believes that the shortest route to addressing Black unemployment is by improving opportunities to grow America’s 2 million Black-owned businesses. In fact, if each of these businesses was able to hire just one employee, it would solve Black unemployment overnight. While this may seem to be a simplistic approach to problem- solving, it is a great illustration of what is achievable by concentrating our organization’s efforts on federal, state and local procurement practices that fail to provide equitable opportunity for Black-owned businesses.
We have spent countless hours at the White House, engaging the U.S. Small Business Administration through its Council on Underserved Communities and working through the efforts of the House and Senate Committees on Small Business. We’ve watched federal procurement contracts with African American suppliers and contractors shrink. While in Texas recently, I learned that the huge state with its booming economy spent less than 2 percent of its contract awards with Black businesses. Reports from California, Pennsylvania, Louisiana and other states indicate that Texas is not alone in shortchanging opportunity for Black businesses.
If the federal government is going to get serious about addressing either unemployment or income inequality, we believe that raising the minimum wage may be a good place to start… but a better place would be by enforcing statutes that drive increased utilization of Black-owned businesses in federal contracting opportunities. At a time that the number of Black businesses is skyrocketing and the number of firms ready, willing and able to perform as contractors and subcontractors on federal contracts is growing, it makes no sense that the number of these firms being awarded contracts is shrinking!
We realize that relying solely on government contracting for business growth is shortsighted. That’s why our first line of business growth strategy for Black businesses is doing whatever we can to maximize opportunities for Black consumers to patronize them. Our local chambers across the nation are doubling their efforts to raise the profiles of their members through the Black Press, social media and other avenues. As our projected consumer dollars continue to spiral upward beyond a trillion DOLLARS, it is imperative that we become more conscientious in our efforts to support Black businesses.
We are preparing to roll out the 2014 USBC Solutions Series. Through this program, USBC chambers and their member businesses will be kept abreast of federal policy changes, learn of improvements in access to capital, learn innovative business strategies and bridge the digital divide through technology enhancements in their businesses. Stay tuned for the host cities and dates.
If you live in West Philadelphia, the East Side of San Antonio, central Los Angeles, eastern Kentucky, or the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, you’ll begin to see a concentration of federal resources to address a wide range of issues (education, healthcare, crime, etc.) that have historically impacted opportunity in these communities. According to President Obama, “We call these communities Promise Zones. They’re neighborhoods where we will help local efforts to meet one national goal — that a child’s course in life should be determined not by the zip code she’s born in, but by the strength of her work ethic and the scope of her dreams.”
Our member chambers will work closely with other organizations and agencies to make sure that Black-owned businesses share in the promise made to the communities they call home. Strong chambers equal strong businesses; strong businesses equal strong communities. Our commitment is unwavering. We believe that through Advocacy, Access to capital, Contracting, Entrepreneur training and Chamber development and Black businesses will thrive. As a result, Black unemployment numbers will shrink and take home pay will increase. As always, we ask that you join us in the fight.
Ron Busby, Sr. is president and CEO of U.S. Black Chambers, Inc.