As we celebrate Black History Month, we are reminded of the remarkable men and women who have made an impact in our communities. For me, one of those individuals is my grandfather, an entrepreneur and business owner. My grandfather owned a landscaping company that became the first African American-owned firm in Indiana to win a state contract—for cutting the grass along state highways.
My grandfather’s business exemplified the positive role that small business owners play throughout the country. He made a point of supporting our community by hiring African Americans who had been cut out of the job market by segregation. Many of his employees prospered and some went on to start their own businesses.
I’ve seen firsthand the effect that small business ownership can have in all our communities, including communities of color. In fact, it is small business owners who are leading us down the path to economic recovery and prosperity once again. And, minority-owned small businesses are helping lead this effort.
Minority-owned businesses are some of the fastest growing segments of the economy. From 2002-2007, the number of small businesses owned by African Americans increased 60%. That’s more than triple the rate of businesses overall.SBA plays a key role in helping minority-owned businesses start and succeed. In the area of accessing capital, SBA is three to five times more likely to guarantee a loan to a minority- or woman-owned small business than a conventional lender.
When I joined the SBA team, I knew there was more I could do to help the underserved community. That’s why I helped to create the Council on Underserved Communities which advises SBA on ways we can further expand our reach into underserved communities. The council provides advice on everything from technical assistance, to access to capital, to outreach and education. We are honored to have Cathy Hughes, the founder of Radio One and TV One, and a former SBA borrower, serving as chair of the council. Here experience as a female, African American business owner has been a tremendous asset to the council and the SBA.
As President Obama mentioned during his State of the Union Address, our government is committed to ensuring that every aspiring entrepreneur gets a fair shot at small business ownership. It is a priority for us to support underserved communities and help small businesses in those areas create an economy built to last.
Marie Johns is the Deputy Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration