‘Full’ recovery must be fully inclusive

August 2, 2013
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By the numbers, the West Michigan economy is seeing robust gains by several measures and in multiple sectors. It’s been hard earned, and that underscores the promise of a sustained recovery.

As comfort levels are re-established, there is no better time to put the “walk” in the “talk” of diversity and a fully participating business community that is inclusive of minority and women-owned businesses. According to members of the recently formed Grand Rapids Area Black Businesses organization, that inclusivity must also come from one African-American-owned business owner to the other. Such defined efforts give added impact to the overall economy as the success of several becomes the success of an entire community.

Grand Rapids Business Journal has reported on similar efforts in the past. These are defeated somewhere between all the talk and taking the next steps forward on the walk to overall success.

The Business Journal reported in 2011 on the U.S. Census Bureau economic survey of businesses that showed Kent County saw a nearly 80 percent increase in the number of black-owned businesses between 2002 and 2007. The Survey of Business Owners, conducted every five years, revealed growth in the number of Kent County’s black-owned businesses far outstripped general business growth of 13 percent in the five-year period.

The report also included a quote from Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League: “What I hope this says loud and clear to investors is you are missing an emerging market in the U.S.,” Morial said.

“If minority businesses are growing at a faster clip, even with barriers to capital access, imagine what the growth rate would be if those barriers were eliminated, or even lowered. We need the investor community, the venture capital community, the hedge fund community and those on Wall Street to look at this report and recognize that they are missing incredible opportunities right in their own communities.”

In the city of Grand Rapids, 2,000 of those firms were reported to be single-proprietor businesses with no employees. The 81 businesses that had workers in 2007 employed 1,072 with annual payroll of $39 million. Receipts for black-owned businesses were $112.4 million in Grand Rapids and $202 million countywide.

Isaac Norris, whose architectural firm Isaac V. Norris & Associates, 1209 Kalamazoo Ave. SE, designed the Salvation Army Kroc Center in Grand Rapids, said access to capital is a challenge for any small business. “It’s up to the minority community to reach out as much as possible, to be a part of as many organizations as possible that will benefit your business,” Norris told the Business Journal.

Continued enhancement of these opportunities has a ripple effect in the community. In 2014, Doug Small, president and CEO of Experience Grand Rapids, will open a high-profile convention of the elite National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives — special agents and high-ranking, high-profile law enforcement executives. Small said the prestigious booking also marked a milestone for the city’s meeting business. The3,000-member group, along with roughly 100 exhibitors and vendors, will fill about 5,000 room nights for the local lodging industry with an estimated $3.8 million going into the local economy.

Grand Rapids Police Chief Kevin Belk noted, “For us, it is quite an honor for them to come here. It is one of the premier law enforcement agencies in the world.”

That’s the measure of full recovery.

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