By Barney Blakeney
Business in the Charleston area is booming. One indication of that are the construction cranes that dot skylines. Beneath them the activity is just as obvious. New structures change, almost continuously, familiar landmarks. Black business must position itself to fit into the new landscape.
Charleston Minority Business Enterprise Office Director Theron Snype says business development in the area has been massive, especially since the start of the year. Entering the peninsula from any direction offers a panoramic view of construction cranes on sites across the city. With construction going on in Mount Pleasant, at the Midtown and West End projects on the peninsula, he’s been busy helping contractors find minority partners. Minority firms with the capacity to do the work are kept busy, Snype said. Primary contractors have begun to look outside the local community to find minority contractors, he said.
The word has gotten around that Charleston is a place where construction opportunities abound and it’s expected that contractors hire minorities. The market’s become known for its focus on diversity. Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg is showing a lot of interest in boosting minority business participation, Snype said. Contractors are starting to cooperate. One contractor even sent four new minority employees to the company’s home base in Maine to learn metal fabricating, a skill they’ll use in the future, he noted.
For minority owned businesses outside the construction arena, challenges remain difficult, Snype said. Gentrification that colors the local housing market, paints the same hue in general business opportunities, he said. Although the economic recovery has reached most others, for Black business the same issues still exist – among the most prominent is the inability to access financial capital that facilities business development and expansion. Access to capital is THE stumbling block, he said.
People are looking for ways to engage minorities in business development and seeds are being planted, but there’s still a long way to go, Snype said. That’s where companies like JC and Associates come in. Principle partner Kwadjo Campbell said the company is set to present its fifth annual African American Tourism Conference at the College of Charleston in September.
“The Charleston visitor economy generates $27 Billion dollars in gross sales within the Tri-county area. The African- American niche of this sector can add millions of additional visitors coming to this state and thus increase the industry’s economic impact on the state,” Campbell says in the conference promotional. “The potential is there, perhaps more so than anywhere else in the nation, because in Charleston and South Carolina we are rich in spiritual, cultural, and entrepreneurial traditions.
“This potential has been stifled by the failure of local and state governments and regional visitor bureaus to collaborate, and strategize with African- American businesses, and non- profits concerning this niche. The process of removing this obstacle begins with the convening of the annual African- American Tourism Conferences, whose goals are to 1) Educate residents & tourism industry officials about the benefits of investing into the development of this niche, and 2) strategize on the future growth and development of this niche of the industry.”
Campbell says he’s smiling at the potential for business opportunities that can be created in the Charleston region. But there must be cooperative and collaborative partnerships. One promising arena is public land trusts that are developing in North Charleston and East Cooper, he said. Even on the cultural front there are young entrepreneurs like DJ KUB – Reginald Gregory – who are taking the reins of leadership to guide them into a new economic era, Campbell said.