By Ron Busby
The timing could not have been more perfect. While we were in the middle of finalizing plans for our second annual United States Black Chamber School of Chamber Management, Bloomberg News reported that federal contracting with African American and Hispanic-owned businesses declined in fiscal Year 2011 for the first time in a decade. According to the Federal Procurement Data System, compared to fiscal year 2010, contracts to Black-owned firms dropped 8 percent to $7.12 billion and decreased 7 percent to $7.89 billion for Hispanic-owned businesses. It’s never good news to learn that federal contracting opportunities for the business men and women we work hard to represent are shrinking, but our upcoming School of Chamber Management (SCM) will provide the perfect opportunity to arm our leaders with the tools to reverse the trend. Based on our five pillars of service – Advocacy, Access to Capital, Contracting, Entrepreneur Training and Chamber Development – the School of Chamber Management will ensure that chamber leaders from all across the country will be more effective advocates for their members on local, state and federal levels. Among other critical issues important to chamber operations, they will learn how important it is to sift through mountains of data and federal, state and local regulations and policies to craft a winning message and approach to business development for their members.
We believe that our first effort at building the knowledge base for Black chamber leaders – held last summer – was a huge success. We are absolutely certain that our second SCM, July 24 – 28 at the Georgetown University Conference Center, will be even better. With a solid line-up of nationally recognized presenters and a growing list of corporate supporters, this year’s school is sure to live up to its theme, “Promoting Chamber Growth, Efficiency & Influence.” In the meantime, as you might imagine, the USBC has received a barrage of requests for comment on the recent Bloomberg report. Well, as I’m fond of saying, “I’m glad you asked…” It is disheartening to learn that prime contracts awarded by the federal government to African American vendors and suppliers have declined. We are still digging through the numbers to learn whether subcontracting dollars followed the same trend. To be blunt, we are not happy. We have diligently maintained contact with (it seems like hundreds of) federal agencies – including the White House – which makes news of this decline particularly disappointing. My service on the SBA’s Council on Underserved Communities has been a great platform for keeping USBC’s agenda on the minds of those charged with expanding access to contracting and procurement. But the numbers don’t lie and clearly there is a need for some solutions. Here are a few of our solutions to address this concern:
Connect with the Black Chamber in Your Community or Region – Chambers exist to support small businesses and have the resources and relationships to help small businesses become more successful.
Leverage Bonding Options to Access More Capital – the U.S. Black Chamber, Inc. recently partnered with an entity that has an innovative national platform with a solid bid management system and bonding program to assist capital constrained contractors. We will officially announce the new partnership at our upcoming conference. Consider Teaming Opportunities – Seek ways to collaborate with other prime and sub-contractors to increase scale, acquisition fulfillment, and sustainability.
I’m sure a good part of our White House Business Leaders Briefing on July 27be spent receiving assurances from administration officials that there is some plausible explanation for the dip in spending with African American owned businesses. We – along with representatives of the Top 100 Black-owned businesses from across the country – will be there to press our case. If America is to reduce the devastating African American unemployment rate, it will occur because African American enterprises have increased business and the money to expand. The 8 percent drop in federal contracting opportunities for African American prime contractors represents about $570 million in sales, or enough to move more than 16,000 folks out of the unemployment line. And while that 16,000 may seem insignificant against the nearly 3 million Black folks out of work, try telling that to one of the lucky 16,000.
All of a sudden, you get the picture… Yes, the U.S. Black Chamber, Inc. is dedicated to improving the performance of local African American business organizations. When we are successful, we will change lives and communities. When Black businesses grow, more African Americans will have the opportunity for improved education and healthcare and housing choices. We’ll buy more groceries and pay more taxes, too. That’s why we’ll be working so hard during our upcoming School of Chamber Management. Advocacy is at the core of what organizations such as ours represent. And while others are content to point fingers and make noise about how dreadful the decline in federal contracting is, we’ll be busy arming business leaders with the tools necessary to reverse the trend, both locally and nationally.
It’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it. If you’re serious, you can join us. As my grandmother used to say, “We could use more hands.”
Ron Busby is president of the U.S. Black Chamber, Inc.