The Obama administration has been working diligently to create an environment for businesses to start and flourish in several ways: by working to free up credit, increasing small-business loan guarantees, enhancing opportunities for small firms to do business with the federal government and opening additional markets abroad through new trade agreements. Closer to home, we simply must focus on owning more businesses and creating high-paying jobs in all communities.
I grew up in a small town in South Carolina, where the textile industry was once the mainstay of our local economy. Connected to that textile economy was a vibrant black business district called the Hill. It was our black Wall Street, reminiscent of Sweet Auburn in Atlanta and Harlem in New York City. It was where one could find doctors’ and lawyers’ offices, mom-and-pop retail stores, restaurants, fresh-seafood markets and of course barbershops, beauty salons and funeral homes.
We didn’t have Starbucks, but we had the Nick Nack Café, where friends and family gathered. When we were kids, local businessmen were our role models and taught us important life lessons. The Hill wasn’t just where we bought products and services; it was the epicenter and nucleus of our social organization.
Nonetheless, the textile industry has dried up, and the Hill, as I knew it, is gone. It’s been replaced by empty storefronts and hollowed-out buildings. Unfortunately, this same story has played out in cities and towns across the country, including Detroit, where auto-parts factories have shut down; and Gary, Ind., where steel plants have disappeared.
These communities have been left reeling, with few, if any, good-paying jobs and a dismantled social structure. Consequently, young, capable men end up unemployed and disengaged from the larger society instead of working in advanced manufacturing plants or in local businesses. This chronic joblessness often lies at the root of many of our social problems, such as crime, neighborhood decay and broken families.
No Easy Solution
This is a problem that defies easy solutions. We simply can’t revitalize overnight communities that have lost thousands of jobs. And new corner stores or barbershops certainly won’t make up for the closing of factories. Targeted government programs help, but private-sector investment is critical for sustained community development.