By Barney Blakeney
The 42nd annual event of the Cooper River Bridge Run was held April 6 and despite nearly a half century of continued spectating, Black business still hasn’t entered the race as significant economic contenders.
An estimated 40,000 visitors came to town last weekend, bringing with them a $30 million economic impact. According to statistics, only about half the participants come from South Carolina. And the event’s website says, “The Cooper River Bridge Run is the third largest race in the country and one of the most popular. With an expected 40,000 participants, the Bridge Run is an opportunity for your company to reach a concentrated mass of your target in one weekend.”
By Friday some Black vendors still were looking for venues to showcase their wares. Charleston Minority Business Enterprise Office Manager Ruth Jordan said the event has grown over the years and many small businesses have connected with it through eateries, hotels and other venues that offer opportunities to vendors. Those kinds of opportunities also exist during other events such as the Southeastern Wildlife Expo and Black Expo. “But it’s all about marketing,” she said.
Her office doesn’t keep statistics on the number of Black owned businesses in the city, Jordan said. Her office does have a list of some 435 women and minority owned businesses. But it’s relatively safe to say few Black owned businesses beyond those located in the City Market saw much increase in business during the bridge run event, she said.
Still, to be listed businesses first have to exist. Before she took the helm at the minority business office last June, Jordan’s predecessor Theron Snype said 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 Southeastern Wildlife Expo held in Charleston in February brought an estimated $50 million economic impact to the local economy.
The reality is, beyond a handful of Black restaurants and tour guide companies, local Black business is not prolific or diverse, Snype said. Of last year’s bridge run he said, “If Black owned restaurants didn’t see a change in their customer base during the bridge run event, other Black owned businesses certainly didn’t. I would guess the economic impact of the bridge run in the Black community was negligible, if not zero.”
That likely didn’t change this year, Jordan concedes. But she’s cautiously optimistic. As with the local construction boom, “We know billions of dollars will be spent in the coming years,” Jordan said. “We have to figure out what businesses we should create, what our business community will look like. Our traditional kinds of businesses – mom and pop restaurants and beauty salons will all be gone soon. We have to begin to look at architect and accounting, businesses we don’t think about as opportunities.
To facilitate a new generation of Black owned businesses Jordan says her office will be conducting workshops to provide access to resources and information. And they encourage joint ventures between larger firms and small business owners. In addition the office will re-establish the eight-member Minority Business Advisory Committee which has been dormant the past several years. For information, call Jordan at (843) 724-3474 or go to the city’s website at www.charleston-sc.gov.