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Census: Md. Economy Supports Black-Owned Businesses

By Tom Howell Jr.
Capital News Service
Tuesday, April 18, 2006

WASHINGTON - Maryland added nearly 22,000 black-owned businesses from 1997 to 2002, ranking it sixth in the nation for total black-owned firms, a new U.S. Census report said.

The same report ranks Prince George's County fourth among the nation's largest counties with 28,389 black-owned firms in 2002, a 42 percent increase since 1997.

State and county officials said the statistics confirm the success of Maryland's effort to create a "one Maryland" economy, where every citizen has the chance to participate in business.

Minority-driven commerce also improves race relations and brings the state closer to its technology goals, said Aris Melissaratos, secretary of the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development.

"The census report substantiates what we already knew about African-American businesses," said Sharon Pinder, special secretary of the Governor's Office of Minority Affairs.

The number of black-owned firms in Maryland increased from 47,614 to 69,410, or 46 percent, during the Census report's 1997-2002 time frame, while revenue from these firms increased by 17 percent.

Nationwide, total black-owned firms increased from roughly 800,000 to 1.2 million, or 45 percent, while revenue increased 25 percent.

Maryland's black business owners favored health care and social services more than any other field, with nearly 50,000 firms. That category also ranked first nationally with 245,767 black-owned firms.

Equality in business was a goal of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich and Lt. Gov. Michael Steele's administration in early meetings, Melissaratos said.

"All minority businesses will have a seat at the table, and there'll be something on the plate at the table," he said, referring to the meetings' goal.

The push for more black-owned businesses is a reflection of demographics, Melissaratos said. Baltimore City saw a 34.6 percent jump in number of black-owned firms in the Census report, but unemployment in Baltimore City hangs around 6.2 percent.

"You look at the demographics, and it's primarily African-American," Melissaratos said. "It needs attention."

Prince George's County, meanwhile, is the wealthiest county in the nation with an African-American majority, said Kwasi Holman, president and CEO of Prince George's County Economic Development Corp.

"Therefore there are a number of individuals with not only the capital to start their own businesses, but the experience and kind of spirit to do that," Holman said.

Minorities have taken advantage of numerous county initiatives and seminars, spanning topics like financing, construction and networking, to help small businesses, he said. Savvy entrepreneurs used these opportunities to boost the information technology industry in Prince George's County and take advantage of government and private contracts in the area.

"I would say historically there has been a relative absence of African Americans in business in general," Holman said.

"That's beginning to change."

Bowie, for example, stood out in the census report with a 217.5 percent leap in black-owned firms from 1997 to 2002.

Holman attributed Bowie's success to its location between Annapolis and Washington, D.C.

The census' five-year studies of race-based business growth are mandated by an executive order from Richard Nixon on May 12, 1969, said Lee Wentela, chief of the Economic Census Branch. The order was made to monitor impending problems and whether federal assistance programs were effective, he said.

Equality in business has historically assuaged social conflict, Melissaratos said.

"Economic interdependence solves interpersonal problems and solves international problems," he said.

In Maryland, these reports paint a picture of minority business ownership on the rise. A census report released March 21 showed a 37 percent increase in Maryland's Hispanic-owned businesses.

Steady business growth in Prince George's County has added to its healthy diversity, and not just among blacks, Holman said.

"Hispanic and Asians (business owners) are large and growing parts," he said. "It's one of the real beauties of the county."

Copyright 2006 University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism


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