By Leonard E. Colvin
New Journal and Guide
Two cities in Virginia – Virginia Beach and Richmond – are listed among the top 10 locales in the United States deemed “friendly” to Black business creation, according to a new national survey.
The survey is being promoted by the National Republican public relations machine to cite Black business growth in GOP-led or leaning states where seven of the top 10 cities named for Black-owned small businesses are located.
The finding, according to A. Bruce Williams of Virginia Beach, raised more questions than providing a clear view of why these communities were so accommodating to Black business creation. Williams, who owns a public relations firm in Virginia Beach and is the Economic Justice Chairman of the Hampton Roads 200+ Men, has studied Black business disparity issues in cities across Hampton Roads.
The fourth annual Thumbtack.com Small Business Friendliness Survey polled 18,000 small business owners to provide insights into state and local business environments across the nation.
The report revealed how states and cities are “friendly” to Black business creation, in what sectors Blacks are developing businesses, job opportunities and income levels.
The top 10 cities are Austin, Texas, Dallas, Columbus, Ohio, West Palm Beach, FL, Richmond, Virginia Beach, Kansas City, Missouri, Nashville, Tennessee, Jacksonville, Florida and Raleigh, North Carolina, in that order.
This year the survey used responses from 1,663 African-American business owners to measure to three areas: 1) How friendly is your city? 2) How easy was it to start a business? and 3) Would you encourage others to start a business in your city?
One factor the survey looked at was how friendly city governments were so far as helping Blacks develop business opportunities
According to those surveyed, the three most important factors to small Black business owners when evaluating their local governments were the presence of helpful training and networking programs; easy to understand tax regimes; and licensing rules that were easy to follow and well enforced.
Williams did an analysis to shed light on the method Thumbtack used to acquire its outcomes.
Locally, Williams said, Virginia Beach is on the list because the survey looked at the Census Bureau’s Statistical Metropolitan Area (SMA), which uses all of the data from the region, not just one city.
“Virginia Beach was the only city cited in the (Thumbtack.com report), but the SMA used data measuring business growth from all of the region including the Beach, Newport News, Norfolk and Portsmouth,” said Williams. “It did the same for Dallas, Austin and other cities which have adjacent cities and suburbs which have large numbers of Black populations and business operations run by African-Americans”
Groups like the 200+ Men and the NAACP have urged locales to conduct “disparity studies” to measure the level of Black enterprise in their boundaries participating in their procurement systems. Richmond and Raleigh, according to Williams are the only two cities on the Thumbtack list which have done such a study.
Such a study by the state of Virginia has indicated a low percentage of Black firms participating in the state procurement system. Portsmouth and Hampton are the only Hampton Roads cities to do so, and both have created policies to correct the situation for their cities and school systems..
Williams said that a local or regional disparity study would give a clearer picture of the strength of Black business participation in the procurement system and the kinds of businesses they are involved in today.
Charles D. Ellison is a veteran political strategist reporter for the Black newspaper, The Philadelphia Tribune, The Hill and host of the Ellison Report on WDAS FM in Philly. He recently wrote a column looking at other factors which may explain the survey for the Black News website The Root.
First, Ellison pointed out, “Well-known and well-branded” big metropolises such as Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Chicago, Philly, and Los Angeles with active Black culture, politics and money machines were left off the list.”
Ellison pointed out that eight of the 10 cities were located in the South, “the land of Confederate and Jim Crow holdouts.”
“A long history of survival in the South shows that small-business ownership is, many times, the only recourse,” Ellison wrote. “There is a stronger tradition of Black business ownership and patronage in the South due to the legacy of Jim Crow economic segregation.”
Second, six of the ten locales are in red, conservative Republican states where the Governor and the legislatures are controlled by the GOP.
Two of the states, Missouri and Virginia, are not blue, but purple which elect Democratic and Republican leaders. Virginia has a Democratic Governor, a General Assembly controlled by the GOP, and voters supported Obama’s two presidential bids.
“It just means that the political climate in these states – places like Florida, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia, where union-killing laws like right-to-work laws are in place – can force some Black residents into sudden entrepreneurship, whether they want to go that route or not,” Ellison wrote.
Williams and Ellison noted the National Republican public relations machine is using the report to cite Black business growth in GOP-led states as evidence of the party’s efforts to promote Black enterprise to curry favor with Black voters during the 2016 election.
“The GOP is being disingenuous,” said Williams, “when you do not take into account the disparities which exist. Virginia Governor (Bob) McDonnell did a study, but there was no follow-up or laws put in place to correct the situation.”
Williams noted that many of these communities had long-standing histories of Blacks being involved in creating businesses of their own due to Jim Crow oppression, a large educated Black middle class and aid access to government contracts and support.
Third, these cities are very active Black political hubs, Ellison wrote. Austin, Columbus and Richmond, along with Nashville, Tenn., and Raleigh, N.C. – are all state capitals, many with very active Black state legislators. Three cities – Columbus, Richmond and Kansas City, Mo. – (have) Black Democratic mayors.
They are also in states like Texas, Ohio, Virginia and North Carolina, with either rather sizable African-American congressional delegations (some representing these cities) or longtime Black members of Congress with some clout in their respective states.
“On many levels, this sort of activity has to trickle down to small Black businesses at some point,” Ellison wrote. ”The Black business class in Southern cities has been relatively more successful in leveraging their interests through the political system, resulting in government contracts and set-asides that have created a more robust base of Black business capital,” according to Rockeymoore.com, a source Ellison used for his column.
Locally, Virginia Beach is a GOP-leaning city; Chesapeake is relatively purple with Obama winning it twice; Norfolk and Portsmouth have large Black populations and Democratic-leaning voting populations.
“Fourth, there are just lots more Black people there, and going back there,” Ellison wrote. “Take into account that, purely based on population, these cities are urban centers in states with massive Black populations that tend to congregate in, well, urban areas. Every state on the Black Business Friendly Thumbtack map has a Black population ranging from 13 percent (Missouri and Texas) to 23 percent (North Carolina).
More than half of these cities also contain Black populations of 30 percent or more. Richmond, has a majority-Black population of 51 percent. Austin is probably the exception, at 8 percent. But the general area sends eight Black lawmakers to the state legislature.