Black Businesses Grew at 3 Times the National Rate

A lack of capital and connections still hampers success for African-American entrepreneurs.

It was the only black billion-dollar company on that list. The next-largest company was Chicago’s Johnson Publishing, with revenue of $202 million. The remaining top 10 were hair care companies, a soft drink bottler, a construction company, fabled Motown, a transportation firm and two computer-systems-integration companies. The smallest firm on that year’s BE 100 list was a custodial company that brought in $3.1 million.

Currently, the largest U.S. black-owned firm is World Wide Technology. Its $3.2 billion in revenue should keep the Maryland Heights, Mo., technology-products and consulting-services giant atop the BE 100 when the magazine unveils the list this June. Ironically, the No. 22 company on last year’s BE 100, with $200 million in revenue, was Johnson Publishing, publishers of Ebony and Jet.

In 2011 the sectors in which the 10 largest black-owned companies operate reflect changes in how African Americans do business. The firms are led or were founded by men and women with a deep knowledge of their industries, but also by those with an MBA, holders of other advanced degrees and corporate executives with an itch to run their own businesses.

Their ranks include an international oil business, two tier-one suppliers of automotive parts, two staffing-human resources companies, a national passenger-transportation company, a diverse conglomerate, a holding company owned by a serial entrepreneur, a food company run by a former NBA player and the nation’s only black-owned casino company. His company reported revenue of $380 million in 2010.

Despite the wounds caused by the recession, Harry C. Alford, president and CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce, is optimistic. “The amount of new entrepreneurs with remarkable skill sets will overcome any losses incurred by business failure or downturn,” he says. “Capitalism is catching on like wildfire in the African-American community.”

Frank McCoy writes about business and technology for The Root.

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