Op/Ed By Me’Shae Brooks-Rolling –
It started out as a Facebook conversation. Syracuse had just experienced another snowstorm, and one of my friends inquired, “Does anyone out there have a minority snow plower they can recommend?” Before I knew it, this simple inquiry had morphed into a full-blown conversation amongst several Facebook friends about the need for a “black and brown” business directory, so local consumers can easily support minority entrepreneurs.
Entrepreneurship and financial readiness/capability are all interrelated, and nowhere is action on these issues more urgently needed than in Syracuse. Let’s delve into some demographic statistics to establish the correlation between entrepreneurship and asset accumulation.
Syracuse is the fifth most populous city in New York State. Back in 1950, it had 250,000 residents. According to the 2010 U.S. Census Bureau, Syracuse has experienced a population decline over the past six decades to 145,170 residents representing 57,355 households: 56 percent White, 29 percent African-American, 8 percent Hispanic, and 7 percent “New Americans” aka the immigrant and refugee populations.
The median household income in 2015 for Syracuse, with a population of 144,564 representing 54,781 households, was $31,881, and the average household income was $47,578. The median household income of 468,463 Onondaga County residents is $57,365. Blacks and Latinos continue to earn less than Whites and Asians.
Moreover, more than one-third, or 31 percent of Syracusans live in poverty, compared with 15.7 percent nationwide (7.1 percent countywide), making Syracuse the 23rd poorest city in the country. It also ranks 11th in the list of cities with the worst concentrated poverty. Blacks and Latinos in Syracuse comprise the group with the highest level of concentrated poverty in the entire country. This revelation shook Syracuse to its core in 2015, when The Century Foundation’s study was released.
Entrepreneurship helps to close the gap between asset building and net worth. Fifty-four percent of all U.S. sales are generated by small businesses–Mom-and-Pop Main Street U.S.A. versus Wall Street. According to the U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce, 70 percent of women-owned firms have annual receipts of less than $25,000. The revenues are significantly smaller for non-white female business owners.
In addition, according to OneSource, there are 28,046 businesses in Onondaga County. Ed Cuello, board chair of the Upstate Minority Economic Alliance, cites more than 10,000 minority-owned businesses in the 16-county upstate New York region.
Net worth is defined as assets (anything one owns) minus liabilities (any debt one owes). The average Black household wealth is $11,000. For Latinos, it’s $13,000. For Caucasians, it’s $120,000. And, what this translates into is that, for every $1 in net worth that a White person owns free and clear, Latinos own 11 cents and Blacks own a mere 9 cents. The U.S. Census Bureau has estimated that, by 2043, minorities in America will be the majority, but future generations will be ill-prepared financially, unless we increase our net worth in modern-day times.
According to Dr. Dennis P. Kimbro, a scholar/researcher, lecturer, author and expert on black wealth, $1.2 trillion (with a “T”) passes through the hands of black people on a consumption basis in one single year. Suppliers need to provide these goods and services. Think about the economic impact on our nation’s gross national product. We as a people have the capacity to mobilize. Just look at the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955. This seminal event was just as much about economic empowerment as it was about civil rights. When blacks banded together and said, “We will not be treated this way while spending our hard-earned money to subsidize the public transportation system,” the city of Montgomery had to take notice of its dwindling revenue stream, irrespective of institutionalized racism.
No one notices or cares if I go an entire day patronizing white-owned businesses–buying coffee and a donut, lunch, dinner, gas in the car, groceries, vacation expenses, etc. Other affinity groups do this–women, veterans, and ethnic groups. Why not Blacks and Latinos? It is a well-known fact that in certain cultural communities, currency passes within that particular community several times before leaving it. Why not us? And, why does it have to necessarily be minority businesses supporting minority businesses–don’t we support white-owned business enterprises? Why can’t patronization also be in reverse?
Dan Cowen, Deputy Director of Entrepreneurship Inclusivity, CenterState CEO sums it up best:
“Economic growth will not be sustainable if it is not inclusive.” What’s the value proposition in doing so? Inclusiveness enhances a company’s bottom line in contributing to positive net cash flow. Non-inclusiveness can have a negative net effect not only on that business enterprise, but also in our region’s entire economy.
Combating institutionalized racism and anemic of diversity and inclusion is so important that New York Gov. Mario Cuomo established a 30 percent Minority & Women-Owned Business Enterprise (MWBE) threshold, which is ten percent higher than the national 20 percent utilization rate. What this simply means is that for every dollar that New York State spends as the biggest purchaser of commodities and services, its agencies must contract $1 out of every $3 worth of expenditures with one of the state’s certified woman or minority-owned business enterprises. It is important to mention here that a certification process is necessary in order to ensure that the business is indeed majority-owned, and operated by a female or minority in order to counter fraudulent activity. The criteria are that the firm must be in business for at least one year, and must be at least 51 percent minority or woman-owned.
Here’s how we can support each other’s business enterprises, or each other in general:
Contact your local Visitors & Convention Bureau and request that minority-owned restaurants be included in the visitor guides. Mind you–local businesses typically have to pay a membership fee in order to be listed, but you can also research minority businesses on sites such as Yelp when traveling. I am a Midwesterner who grew up on Southern food, aka soul food, because both of my late parents were from the south. As result, I intentionally seek out these types of Mom and Pop restaurants when traveling.
Stop being cheap with each other in the name of community civic duty and bargaining.
If we have the disposable income to eat out and indulge ourselves in consumption, then we have the monetary resources to pay a minority contractor his/her market rate. I’m not against negotiating and offering concessions. That’s par for the course in business transactions. But, there is a slippery slope between this, and trying to get something for nothing. Groups that generate the most respect are the ones who ask out of the gate: “What is your rate?” as opposed to “You owe it to the community to offer your services for gratis.”
Tip well/generously for good service. If you are patronizing a service-based business, then be sure to tip well. The multiplier effect in doing so can make a difference in the bottom line of an entrepreneur owner’s business, or an employee’s wages.
If you are in a position of procurement, or are a procurement officer with some level of influence over the process, then seek out qualified minority suppliers. I look forward to the day when doing business with vendors of color is the norm. Again, no one ever questions why the majority of firms garnering contracts are white-owned. Have you ever watched interviews conducted by Oprah Winfrey? She has made interviewing famous Black people as normal as her journalism peers have made interviewing white celebrities and luminaries.
Reciprocate/Support/Invest in yourself. Conversely, we need to offer superior products and services, including customer service. We often assume we’re ready for acquiring additional business, and that big contract, but I also advocate that soft skills such as etiquette and customer service should be a part of our entrepreneurial training. What is our public persona on our websites and social media such as Facebook? Do we correspond in a professional manner, or are our emails fraught with misspellings? Do we return our phone calls in a timely fashion? Are our administrative and financial capabilities streamlined and systematized? Is our paperwork clean? Do we truly have the bandwidth for additional growth, or do we need to gradually scale up in order to retain quality control? Do we know how to handle ourselves in social situations? Sometimes we assume we’re ready, but we may not be polished enough. Quality will attract premium customers every single time.
Champion mutual success and support each other by attending comrades’ functions. All it takes is a little time out of our schedules to attend an event to show support. Better yet, nominate someone you know for the plethora of local awards to optimize our collective success. Take the time to brainstorm so the same folks aren’t nominated over and over again; or even solicit the nominee for information so that a strong, competitive application can be submitted. Cross-pollinate across ethnicities. For instance, while our histories as Black and Latinos may be different, our experiences of being a minority in a majority society are very similar.
Likewise, when someone you know receives accolades or public notoriety, congratulate him or her. Don’t assume that they’re on top of the world. Success is often a lonely road, particularly for professionals of color. I once encountered an awkward situation where I found myself on the defensive because the individual had a hard time grappling with the discrepancy between their limited perception of me and my capabilities as described in a profile article. A simple “congratulations” without all of the drama would have sufficed. In that case, I politely and gracefully exited the conversation, and left them to deal with the gap. Thank goodness it wasn’t a fellow minority! Don’t hate–congratulate.
The local entrepreneurial ecosystem is one of the key reasons my husband and I relocated to Syracuse ten years ago. I have found the resources and training ground to be quite fertile. Here is what a business of color can do to strategically position itself for commerce:
Attend the Minority Business & Economic Empowerment Summit
The inaugural Minority Business & Economic Empowerment Summit (MBEES) was held in 2016 in East Syracuse and the slate of presenters was outstanding. This year, it will be held on Saturday, October 21st from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. at the beautifully restored Marriott Hotel Syracuse. Don’t miss out on valuable information and strategic connections! General admission is $75. Register here: www.cohi-inc.org, (315) 469-1106.
Take advantage of the following local resources, just to name a few:
Join the Upstate Minority Economic Alliance. The newly-formed UMEA’s vision and mission is to create greater regional prosperity–including Rochester and Buffalo–through enhanced minority economic opportunity, and to harness this economic power to enhance Central New York’s overall economic vitality. It is the first minority chamber of commerce located in the 16-county Upstate New York region.
SSIC-SouthSide Innovation Center
Business Incubator providing services and facilities to current and emerging entrepreneurs.
WISE Women’s Business Center and WISE Latina (Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship)
Provides comprehensive business training and counseling on a vast array of topics.
CenterState CEO Economic Inclusion unit
Dedicated to translating economic growth into opportunities and wealth-building within low- income communities by convening business and community leadership to address poverty and economic disparity in CNY.
MBE-Certified firm specializing in the certification and procurement process, and pairing firms with federal and state contracting and procurement opportunities.
Here are broader resources at your disposal:
The U.S. Small Business Association (SBA) offers programming and training and periodically publishes a free resource guide.
Empire State Development (ESD) is the economic development arm for New York State
Division of Minority and Women’s Business Development:
SCORE–Society Corps of Retired Executives provides mentoring, free business counseling, and low-cost workshops.
SBDC–Small Business Development Center at OCC provides free assistance including developing your business plan.
Align yourself with state and national resources:
I know many local Blacks and Latinos who make the annual trek to Washington, D.C. and Albany to attend the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) and the New York State Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic, and Asian Legislative Caucus, respectively. Here are others:
- NBCC–National Black Chambers of Commerce–nationalbcc.org
- WBENC–Women’s Business Enterprise National Council–wbenc.org
- NMSDC–National Minority Supplier Development Council–nmsdc.org
- NMBC–National Minority Business Council–nmbc.org
- MBDC–Minority Business Development Council–MBDC.gov
- USHCC–United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce–ushcc.com
- USWCC–U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce–uswcc.org
- VBOC–Veterans Business Outreach Centers–sba.gov/content/veterans-business-outreach-centers
I recently received my first issue of MBE (Minority Business Entrepreneur) magazine and discovered that there is a plethora of annual, national conferences devoted to the minority enterprise space, including summits and contracting forums.
Read Financial and Entrepreneurship sections of periodicals:
- The Wall Street Journal, USA Today newspapers
- Black Enterprise, Ebony, Essence, Savoy, Upscale magazines
- The National Black MBA Association also publishes a phenomenal periodical
The exponential impact on Onondaga County can be tremendous. Support a minority entrepreneur or business owner. They’re likely to hire other minorities, just as women tend to do with other women, and veterans do with vets. Consequently, the employer and employee/subcontractor pay taxes, build assets and net worth, and contribute to the growth of the regional economy. My late father was a successful funeral director and mortician for 35 years in the small Indiana town I grew up in. Daddy used to tell me all of the time: “Me’Shae, money has but one color, and that’s green.”
(Me’Shae Brooks-Rolling is a Certified Educator in Personal Finance, President of Just The Basics Financial Literacy, and author of “How To Save Money & Organize Your Finances”. Me’Shae is a board member of the Upstate Minority Economic Alliance and the WISE Women’s Business Center. Just The Basics Financial Literacy is a NYS MWBE-Certified firm and is also federally self-certified.)