By Barney Blakeney
Which came first – the chicken or the egg? For many concerned about the economic impact of the Southeastern Wildlife Exposition in the local Black community, that’s a pertinent question.
Celebrating its 37th annual appearance in Charleston February 17-19, the Southeastern Wildlife Exposition attracts an estimated 40,000 attendees to more than 500 artists and exhibitors from around the globe who present their offerings at various venues in the area. The event features artwork by painters, sculptors and carvers, educational wildlife shows, falconry demonstrations, decoys, sporting arms, retriever demonstrations, lectures, conservation exhibits, outdoor outfitters and guides, food, drink and children’s activities. It is a celebration of wildlife and nature through fine art, conservation education, sporting demonstrations. Charleston is host to the largest event of its kind in the United States.
The event injects an estimated $50 million into the regional economy and generates some $3 million in local, state and regional taxes. But Black businesses see almost none of that. In a 2018 interview, then Charleston Minority Business Enterprise Office Director Theron Snype said that’s because there are too few Black businesses in place to take advantage of the economic windfall. The office’s new Director, Ruth Jordan says those Black businesses which do exist don’t market themselves to attract some of the SEWE’s business. Charleston Business Services Director Clay Middleton agreed.
Last year Snype lamented there simply aren’t enough Black owned businesses in existence to capitalize on the special events that bring millions of dollars into the local economy. The reality is, beyond a handful of Black restaurants and tour guide companies, local Black business is not prolific or diverse. “If Black owned restaurants didn’t see a change in their customer base … other Black owned businesses certainly didn’t. I would guess the economic impact in the Black community was negligible, if not zero,” Snype suggested. “I don’t see any positive outcomes for African American businesses,” he said. That hasn’t changed.
Will it change? Should local government be held accountable for Black business development?
The financial infrastructure isn’t in place to develop minority businesses, Snype added candidly. Business development requires resources. And while there are entities conducting activities that point to those resources, there are no guarantees that lending institutions will provide the most necessary resource – money, Snype said.
In the meantime, Black businesses must reach out to the multitude of consumers who come to the region for special events. There’s a lot of potential, Jordan said. Middleton said Black business can tap that potential in various ways.
Black organizers, event coordinators and consultants typically aren’t at the table when special events are planned, he said. They bring sensitivity to planning stages that likely is missing, he said. Diversity and inclusion also means having representative racial diversity among decision-makers, he said. But in addition to special event like SEWE other local entities such as The Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston County School District and our corporate neighbors also should be held accountable for insuring economic equity and inclusion, Middleton said.