By Barney Blakeney
As economic development initiatives scar the metropolitan Charleston landscape, the outlook for black business participation in those abundant swells continues to be unimpressive.
Former Charleston City Councilman Kwadjo Campbell said 2017 will be business as usual for black owned firms – minimal opportunities in a land of plenty. “I don’t see anything coming down the pipes for black businesses because nobody’s doing anything different. There’s nothing coming from the chamber of commerce, local governments or anything that ties African American businesses into the industrial and manufacturing activities that are so pervasive,” he said.
That’s not because nobody’s saying anything. Campbell notes that the black business community and industry are talking about economic inclusion – local companies locating to the area are funding initiatives that train and prepare workers – but black communities must engage them more, he said. Soaring school dropout rates stop many potential workers before they can get started in the workforce, he said. “A dropout can’t apply for training at Trident Technical College if he hasn’t completed high school,” Campbell reasoned.
Institutions within the black community as well as those outside it must do more than talk a good game, Campbell said. Towards that effort his company JC and Associates business consultants this week presented to Charleston County Council a 10-year, $41 million proposal to impact job training, affordable housing, African American tourism, revolving loans and community education.
Evelyn Delaine-Hart who formerly headed the tri-county’s minority business partnership effort said she’s cautiously optimistic about business prospects for African American firms in 2017. The opportunities are obvious, but the uncertainty of President Donald Trump’s administration creates a boom or bust scenario for black business, she said. She points to Trump’s proposed infrastructure bill as a glimmer of hope that would create thousands of jobs.
Delaine-Hart thinks an emerging women’s empowerment movement will have a positive impact on black business due to the call for more equality in pay, but like Campbell she emphasizes that the black business community must be ready to compete in an increasingly less inclusive economic environment.
Miranda Nichols, executive director of the Diversity Advancement Alliance, a new organization that’s growing from older minority business participation advocate roots says the new agency funded January 3 by Charleston County Council this year will build on business partnerships already established and forge some new collaborations. The seed money funded by the county allows it to evolve into a stand alone nonprofit agency by April 1 that will provide an array of services to assist minority owned businesses.
Charleston Minority Business Enterprise Office Director Theron Snype also anticipates a tough 2017 business year for black owned companies. He’s proud of municipal projects like the Spring Street/Fishburn Street drainage project that has spent about 23 percent of its total $34 million phase 2 funding with women and minority owned businesses. He noted two local black owned firms currently are working in the project.
Things may look up for black businesses in the City of Charleston once the city this year under Mayor John Tecklenburg’s administration re-establishes its minority business advisory committee, Snype said. But outside it remains to be seen if black business can capitalize on opportunities presented by companies like Boeing and others.
“The opportunities will be there for black owned businesses in position to take advantage of them – those already in position to do business. But for others that need resources like access to capital, it’s going to be a difficult year,” Snype said.