Facing the challenges of business ownership
By Ron Busby, Sr. NNPA Columnist
There is nothing like doing what you love to do. And it’s even better when others around you share your vision and goals. Tuesday, January 28 was almost perfect. I, along with three key supporters of the U.S. Black Chambers, Inc., started the day off telling the U.S. Black Chambers, Inc. story on TV One’s “News One Now with Roland Martin.” There’s something about the compressed time frames required for television that requires clear thinking and concise speaking – you must make your point quickly.
Joining me on air were Marie Johns, former Deputy Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration; Michael Grant, President of the National Bankers Association and Antwanye Ford, Co-Founder of Enlightened, Inc., one of America’s premier Black-owned businesses. Roland Martin cut to the reason we were guests on his show: Did we expect that President Obama’s State of the Union address would include anything to benefit Black America, particularly Black businesses?
Marie Johns was able to quickly tell Martin and his audience that despite the horror stories that make up the reality of far too many Black businesses, there are SBA programs that deliver as promised. In fact, Ford’s company, Enlightened, Inc., recently graduated from the SBA’s 8(a) program. It is now a $16 million, 150-employee company as a result of taking advantage of federal procurement opportunities. Of course, it’s not easy, and every business won’t meet the same level of success, but the opportunity is there. Antwanye Ford, a past chair of the D.C. Chamber, put it this way: “The 8(a) experience forced us to think in terms of scale. Too often, Black businesses find themselves unprepared when confronted with ‘next stage’ opportunities. The SBA program, coupled with the relationships gained through our chamber membership, are key advantages for our company – and we wouldn’t be here without those experiences.”
His words are a reminder of the heartbeat of chamber membership and why we stress to business owners across the country the importance of U.S. Black Chambers, Inc. and its network. Membership in a local chamber is key, but the relationships gained through membership in the USBC makes it possible to connect a business in Columbus, Ohio with a key contact, say, in Phoenix. It really does happen, and these introductions are providing the foundation for phenomenal growth in the size and scope of Black businesses as we learn the value of joint ventures, mergers and acquisitions. Representing the National Bankers Association, Michael Grant assured viewers that banks, and minority banks in particular, really do want to lend money.
However, they have to make certain that the risk they take is small. Black banks feel loan losses more acutely than larger, national and international financial institutions; they need the earnings from lending activity just as much as the big boys. Altogether, Johns, Ford and Grant told the story of USBC: Advocacy, access to capital, access to contracting, entrepreneur training and Chamber development. Our five pillars of service deliver answers to the challenges faced by Black business owners across America. Did we answer Roland Martin’s question about what we believed would be in the President’s State of the Union Address to benefit Black America? I don’t know.
What I do know is immediately following the broadcast, the White House called for our input on the president’s proposal to increase the minimum wage. We know from our experience that Black businesses typically pay above minimum rates in order to keep good employees so we know what the extra dollars in a paycheck mean in a household. To have our opinion sought out by the White House on the day President Obama was to deliver his SOTU address is further proof that the work we do on behalf of Black business is valuable and that our opinions are part of the policy making machinery.
To cap off the day, we had the opportunity to huddle with Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-Fla.), just two of the Congressional leaders that the President relies on to shepherd key legislation through the House of Representatives. Both are committed to reversing recent declines in contracting opportunities for Black businesses and to making sure that other interests of the USBC and our members are considered in everything that passes their desks. Every opportunity to tell our story doesn’t result in five or 10 minutes on a national network news program, or with us offering our solutions to the White House or members of Congress. But every time we get to tell our story, we are recommitted to our mission – to do everything we possibly can to improve opportunities for Black-owned businesses. Yes, we have some sleepless nights, yes there are moments when our stomachs are a little queasy from uncertainty, but there is never a minute when we don’t believe that we’re on the right path.