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Gradual Development for Minority Businesses
3/20/2013 4:36:14 PM

By Barney Blakeney


   When I first got the press release about the ‘historic’ $13 million Gailliard Auditorium renovation contract awarded to a Black-owned construction firm I said, “Well, whoop de-doo!”

   Actually, I almost ignored it. I was insulted that Charleston officials sought to make a big deal out of what I personally considered an economic tease. There’s at least $1 billion in construction ongoing on the Charleston peninsula alone. The thought of a mere $13 million piece of that pie just didn’t rock my boat. I just didn’t think the press release merited a response.

   The reconstruction of the Gailliard Auditorium is a $142 million project, the largest in the city’s history. City officials said the contract is noteworthy because its also the most ever awarded to a Black-owned firm.

   I always tell young journalists that they have to look at stories beyond the view of their own perspectives. Charleston minority Business Enterprise Office Director Theron Snype reminded me I should heed my own advice. So I wrote the news story.

   However, opinion columns are where journalists can express their personal views, so I’m using this opportunity to say what I think about the city and it’s $13 million minority contract.

   The City of Charleston has been the primary catalyst in the city’s total development. Charleston is a far different place than the city in which I grew up. More businesses than I can shake a stick at have been developed and grown because of that development.

   Snype emphasized that The Gailliard project is the largest the city has undertaken. While that’s technically true, I know that the city has partnered with numerous business partners to create the city we enjoy today. But Black-owned businesses were left out of that development.

   Over the past four decades construction and real estate big wigs in this community who once were millionaires have become billionaires because of the hand up they received in doing business with the city.

   Back in the 1980s Charleston’s six Black city council members, under extreme pressure to facilitate economic development among Black businesses, put minority business participation goals in place for contracts and procurement.

   It was a joke then and its a joke now. The city almost never met its set goals. For years city council never even monitored the levels at which minority businesses were participating in city projects.

   Say what you will or may about former Charleston City Councilman Maurice Washington, but it was Washington who pushed council to remain vigilant about the minority participation goals. That happened for a little while, then we got some Black folks on city council who were more about hearing their titles announced than taking care of business.

   Only until very recently did Black council members work to insure Black businesses get a piece of the municipal pie. Procurement participation for goods and services still is off their radar.

    When I talk to municipal officials, I always get the story about there not being Black bsuinesses out there capable of doing or providing what the city needs.

   Well, today’s billion dollar corporations didn’t start out as billion dollar corporations. They grew because the city and other local government entities helped them to develop. That’s what should be happening with Black-owned businesses. All we need are elected representatives with the guts and brains to make sure it happens.

   And before anyone thinks I’m picking on the City of Charleston, let me say Charleston is the local leader in equal economic opportunity.

   The City of North Charleston ain’t even thinking about working with Black businesses. Black folks in North Charleston, where 45 percent of residents are Black, really need to get a grip and either make their representatives do their jobs or toss them out.

   Charleston’s $13 million contract to the auditorium’s minority contractor is a step in the right direction. A bigger step might be minority business development.



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