Strengthen the Economic Foundation of African-American Small Businesses

Stephen Gilchrist

Booker T. Washington, educator, author and leader in the African-American community, once said, “At the bottom of education, at the bottom of politics, even at the bottom of religion itself, there must be, for our race, as for all races, an economic foundation,
economic prosperity, economic independence.”

Uttered more than 100 years ago, the words of the fervent champion for African-American business still ring true in our modern world. And as we celebrate Black History Month, I am reminded of the long line of African-American business advocates before me who built an economic foundation within our community from the ground up.

Although this scaffolding has afforded many African-American business owners economic independence and thus opportunity, it is not yet strong enough to support holistic prosperity within many communities. Too often, minority-owned businesses are excluded from the resources that come with economies of scale. Fortunately, in South Carolina and
across the nation, technological innovations are delivering tools that can enable African-American and other minority-owned businesses to continue to grow, to compete in large markets and ultimately, to increase economic autonomy within these communities.

As our nation’s economy becomes increasingly cashless, it is crucial that African-American businesses take full advantage of electronic payment technology like credit, debit and prepaid cards. A report conducted by TSYS on U.S. consumer payments found that 35 percent of consumers prefer to pay with a debit card while 40 percent prefer to pay with a credit card. At the same time, only 11 percent of consumers prefer to pay
with cash. Yet despite consumer preference, a survey by the National Federation of Independent Business notes that only about half of small businesses accept electronic payments.

What’s most alarming about this pattern is the fact that large businesses are one step ahead of the game – leveraging electronic payment resources to streamline cash flow and continue to grow. An Intuit Go Payment survey found that businesses that accept electronic payments make more sales and get paid more quickly.

The good news is that for the more than 384,000 small businesses in South Carolina, accepting electronic payments such as debit, credit and prepaid cards, as well as compensating employees with payroll cards, is now easier than ever before. But these resources can only strengthen businesses to the extent that owners are aware of and
understand how to use them.

Working with Master Your Card, a community empowerment program developed by Mastercard, the South Carolina African American Chamber of Commerce is bringing information and resources to businesses in our state. This partnership allows our members to have a solid understanding of how electronic payment technology, including EMV chip cards and mobile payments, and other issues can affect both small- and medium-sized businesses.

Through my years of work with the South Carolina African American Chamber of Commerce, I witnessed the immense value and contributions that minority-owned businesses make to our state and I am devoted to increasing this value. Electronic payment technology has the power to elevate African-American businesses to a larger economic playing field – one traditionally reserved for large corporations. By working
together and taking advantage of the tools at our fingertips, we can reinforce the economic framework that Booker T. Washington and so many like him built throughout history. 

Stephen Gilchrist is president and chairman of the South Carolina 
African American Chamber of Commerce and a member of the Master Your Card African American Advisory Board.

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