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Black Business Owners in Austin Area Outperform State

Austin Monitor
An analysis shows that, despite waning population growth, African-American-run businesses in Austin have outperformed their counterparts across the state.

From the Austin Monitor

Despite Austin being the country’s only large, fast-growing city with a waning African-American population, businesses owned by black residents in the greater area appear to be outperforming those in the rest of the state.

According to U.S. Census Bureau statistics that Greater Austin Black Chamber board member Hopeton Hay presented in July, Travis County topped the state in average receipts for firms owned by black residents in 2007, with $131,400 per company. That is more than double the average for Dallas County, which came in second place at $63,200 per company.

Figures for the Austin/Round Rock metropolitan area show a growth trend over time, with average receipts for firms owned by black residents increasing from $74,000 in 1997 to $120,300 in 2007. The metro area consists of Travis, Williamson, Hays, Bastrop and Caldwell counties.

When viewed at the state level in the same time frame, however, the figures show average receipts for firms owned by black residents decreasing from $113,500 to $60,200.

GABC President Natalie Madeira Cofield told the Austin Monitor on Tuesday that the area data might surprise those who are familiar with news that the African-American population within city limits declined by 5.4 percent between 2000 and 2010. “The statistics … show indeed that Austin is a titan for black business, which is so counter to what one would think,” she said.

“They paint a very positive and optimistic picture of Austin’s black business community and, in turn, Austin’s black community, which I think is a narrative that has not yet gotten out into the broader media outlets like it needs to do.

“I think what this means for the black business community is keep pushing, keep going, keep excelling, keep succeeding,” Cofield continued. “I think for the broader context of Austin, what it means is, how do we celebrate and highlight these data points more than we do as we continue to seek more diversity and more engagement across every fold of our city?”

James Nortey, an Austin attorney who received the GABC Emerging Leader of the Year Award in April and is running to represent Precinct 1 on the Travis County Commissioners Court, pointed out the complexities of the issue in an interview with the Monitor on Tuesday.

“We’re moving in a positive trend, which is a victory,” Nortey said. “At the same time, we also need to take a step back and realize that there’s still a disparity, especially among the quality of life of African-Americans in the Greater Austin area and their other ethnic counterparts, and African-American businesses and their other counterparts.”

This disparity is illustrated by the fact that average receipts for firms owned by black metro area residents – even after having climbed to $120,300 in 2007 – were still far below the $463,300 average for receipts for all businesses classifiable by race in the same year.

The geographical lens through which one looks at the issue, Nortey added, can also help explain the data in the context of population shifts.

“People acknowledge that over the past 15 to 20 years, there’s been a migration of African-Americans from the Austin area to the outskirts,” Nortey said. “I think the city has some work to do in terms of retaining and attracting African-Americans, but at the same time, these same populations are still within the same region.

“It highlights the importance of thinking regionally, because more often than not, although they live in Pflugerville, they live in Cedar Park, they live in Leander, they’re usually working or going to church in Austin,” Nortey continued. “We need to move away from the city-specific focus and look more at the regional focus.”

Charmane H. Sellers is president and CEO of Austin contracting and construction firm ALEON Properties, which won a GABC Small Business of the Year Award in February 2014. She told the Monitor on Tuesday that she was “pleasantly surprised” to learn about the successes of black business owners in the region and talked about her own experiences.

“I’ve been in business for 12 years, and we started off in the residential arena, and once that marketplace changed, we were able to move into the commercial and government arenas, and it was a challenge,” Sellers said.

“One of the things that has been helpful is the city of Austin,” Sellers continued. “They have certification programs for companies like mine that are woman-owned or minority-owned, where they provide encouragement for larger companies to seek out companies like mine that are historically underutilized or underserved. That has been, I believe, very helpful to businesses like mine.”

The certification program Sellers was referring to is called the Minority- and Women-Owned Business Enterprise procurement program. It has an online database of certified companies.

The city also has a Small and Minority Business Resources Department, created by City Council in 1987 to “encourage minority, women and disadvantaged business owners to participate in business opportunities with the city of Austin,” provide certified minority- and women-owned businesses an equal opportunity to compete for work on city contracts and encourage contract bidders to provide subcontracting opportunities with such certified firms.

The state has a program, Sellers also noted, called the Historically Underutilized Business Program, which helps small businesses owned by minorities, women and disabled veterans gain exposure in the public and private sector.

Sellers concluded that the overall Austin public can benefit from being aware of the data the GABC compiled. “Even though it’s focusing on African-American businesses,” she said, “it’s good to know that there is a diversity of businesses in Austin that goes beyond just ethnicity and nationality, and that we all have something valuable that we bring to the table.”

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