Black-owned businesses growing locally

Photo by Laura Williams

Photo by Laura Williams

ALBANY, Ga. -- Newly released statistics from the federal economic census show that black-owned businesses in Dougherty County significantly outpaced growth of other businesses, in a move that state economists predict will continue as the economy improves.

Newly-released numbers from the 2007 Economic Census' Survey of Business Owners shows that numbers in Dougherty County mirror those nationwide as black businesses saw a boon when compared to 2002 numbers.

Conducted every five years, the 2007 Economic Census surveyed 2.3 million businesses, collecting a wide-range of data. The information from that survey is being released publicly for the first time this month and the stats are encouraging for African-American entrepreneurs.

Of the nation's more than 27.1 million businesses, the number of black-owned businesses grew by 60 percent since 2002 -- more than triple the national average for growth of all businesses -- and now stands at 1.9 million.

Receipts from black-owned businesses are also up 55 percent over the five-year period, contributing $137.5 billion in sales and service to the economy.

Locally, Black-owned firms and firms operated by women were the only real bright spot to the report.

While total firms did grow between 2002 and 2007 in Dougherty County -- from 6,172 in 2002 to 6,894 in 2007 -- receipts were down $1.48 billion (dropping from $8.86 billion to $7.37 billion) and the number of employees shrank by 1,171 (falling from 41,018 to 39,847).

But black-owned firms exploded in comparison.

The number of black-owned firms Dougherty in 2007 numbered 2,342, a 63 percent increase over the 1,437 African-American owned businesses in 2002. Receipts for those businesses nearly doubled, growing from $59.7 million in 2002 to $104.8 million in 2007.

Employee numbers for those firms nearly doubled as well, increasing from 906 in 2002 to 1,777 in 2007. The census information did not explain how the number of firms outnumbered the number of employees.

University of Georgia economist Douglas Bachtel attributes the growth to several factors including Georgia's growing African-American population, the rise in disadvantaged business programs and early onset effects of the recession.

"There are multiple reasons why African Americans are making the switch from a labor force to a more entrepreneurial force and much of it has to do with the same reasons anyone does ... more freedom, they like becoming their own boss, etc.," Bachtel said. "But it's also a product of overcoming discrimination in the marketplace and becoming more educated about our business society in general.

"The playing field is becoming more level."

While the data is limited on which particular industries African-American business owners are seeing growth, it does show that most of the black-owned firms in Dougherty County fall under the "other services except public administration" category with 495.

Health care and social assistance is next with 391, followed by "Administrative and Support and Waste Management and Remediation Services" at 329; transportation and warehousing at 107 and construction with 181.

Lee County, by comparison, saw an increase in its total firms and receipts, but a slight decrease in employees.

According to the figures, firms grew 57 percent, from 1,404 in 2002 to 2,211 in 2007. Receipts were up just under 73 percent, going from $301 million in 2002 to $519.8 million in 2007. Over the span, Lee County lost 44 jobs.

Ted Clem, president of the Albany-Dougherty Economic Development Commission, said that he believes the report is a mixed bag in terms of Dougherty County's economic picture.

"The increase in minority businesses is a great thing for the county," Clem said. "Given the demographics of our population, I'd almost be alarmed if they weren't growing a steady rate."

On the flip side, however, Clem said that the reduction in employees and sales illustrates how tough of a decade the aughts have been.

"You'll have to remember, during that period (between 2002 and 2007) we lost a lot of industry like Merck and Bobs Candies, and we've taken a hit from that," Clem said. "Our sales receipts are like a pie; what we've seen is that the way the pie is cut has changed from a bunch of large manufacturers getting their piece, to many more small businesses stepping up and claiming that share."

Barbara Rivera-Holmes, an EDC staffer who has reviewed the numbers and trends, said that going back until 1987, black- and women-owned firms have shown steady double-digit growth and there doesn't appear much in the way of slowing that down.

"They continuously put up 20 percent growth and 40 percent growth, so we're right on track with the national trends that seem to support the notion that those business will see growth," Holmes said.

Agreeing with Holmes, Bachtel urged, however, more reserved estimates on how any sector of business will shake out in the future.

"Changes in business and economic trends can sometimes move at the rate of a stationary wall," Bachtel said. "They don't change forever and ever and then one night the wall just crumbles and everything changes."

For Clem, when the new government economic census is undertaken in 2012, he believes Albany and Dougherty County will show signs of the trailing end of the recession, but will also reflect the growth in health and defense sectors in the area.