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Mike Green: Black Business in America

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By Mike Green

In her book “The History of Black Business in America: Capitalism, Race, Entrepreneurship”

business historian Juliet E. K. Walker refers to the era from 1900 to 1930 as the “golden age of black business”, in the 1920’s and 30’s barbers, the beauty trade, and undertakers were the engines of the black economy, benefitting from a lack of white competition, and proving more resilient in the face of the Depression than larger businesses.

Between 1960 and 1980, we saw these minority-owned, personal-service businesses decreased while minority-owned finance, insurance, and real estate businesses increase, and today we continue to see Black Americans start and grow successful businesses. However, as in previous generation adverse conditions can serve as barriers to entry, institutions acting as guards to businesses accessing capital and needed resource or political structures limiting growth act as executioners that kill businesses that start, grow and succeed.

If Black Americans are relegated to the economic conditions of the past, established, and sustained by others who do not prioritize our success, we will struggle mightily against the prevailing winds. Some of us will still succeed, as history reveals, regardless of how harsh the conditions but, a large majority of our masses will not. This compels us to question, who makes the rules governing local and regional economic landscapes and what role can Black business owners play?

In 1965, Congress gave Black America a resource, the Economic Development Administration which allocates funds across regions that blanket the nation to fund Comprehensive Economic Development Strategies (CEDS), planning processes that work toward regional economic competitiveness and sustainability. If local stakeholders can redesign CEDS plans to center and prioritize the growth and sustainability of Black businesses in cities with significant Black populations, the success of Black businesses could serve as a barometer of the success of inclusive economic strategies. Could Birmingham lead the way?

Economic strategies that measurably increase the percentages of Black employers in any region is good for any local economy that seeks to develop inclusive prosperity with inclusive access, inclusive resources, and inclusive and equitable infrastructure.  Economic development planners, policymakers, and CEOs value what they measure. And they measure what they value. Increasing the percentage of Black employers in any city would bolster the region’s overall economic competitiveness, which is a measure already valued by the status quo.

Today, there is a new opportunity to change the conditions at the local level with strategic plans that center and prioritize the development of Black productivity but, there are no CEDS plans for Black communities in any region. So, we need to organize, strategize and execute.

With a Black-led CEDS plan that has been well thought out, and contains measurable priorities aligned with the economic competitiveness ideals of the region, Birmingham can be a first mover in the nation with a viable pathway that leads toward racial economic equity (ownership) to produce sustainable outcomes that benefit the entire region with inclusive prosperity for generations to come. The blueprint for this process was established and initially executed in Birmingham in 1963. It is time to finish the job.

To continue this discussion, join Mike Green at the A G Gaston Conference on February 21-22, 2023.

Mike Green is a cultural economist, VP of New Economies at Bitwise Industries, Co-founder of Common Ground Conversations on Race in America, Co-founder of the National Institute for Inclusive Competitiveness, and Co-founder of ScaleUp Partners, a national consultancy which published the book, “The Future Economy and Inclusive Competitiveness: How Demographic trends and Innovation Can Create Prosperity for All Americans” by Johnathan Holifield.

Reach Mike on Twitter @amikegreen2 or LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/amikegreen2