Why Black Business Must Rebuild New Orleans

One of the biggest casualties of Hurricane Katrina has been black business. In the November BLACK ENTERPRISE special report “Blown Away By Katrina,” Features Editor Alan Hughes found that approximately 60,000 black-owned companies along the Gulf Coast had been ravaged by the hurricane. The impact on black businesses in the gulf region will be “dire,” says Eugene Cornelius Jr., district director for Louisiana Office, U.S. Small Business Administration. The immediate effects are obvious: the instant devastation of businesses and the complete loss of markets. In Mississippi alone, more than 2,000 black-owned businesses generating sales and receipts of $126 million were severely affected. In Louisiana some 20,000 black companies that generated nearly $866 million were impacted by the storm. In total, black-owned businesses in the region, formerly generating $3.3 billion a year, could be irretrievably lost.

Although rebuilding New Orleans should give the economy a boost, the question at hand for black entrepreneurs is whether African American businesses will get a shot at the billions in reconstruction contracts. “By late September, minority business owners across the Gulf Coast claimed they were being shut out of the rebuilding process and that contracts were being doled out to white business owners who had longstanding connections with federal officials,” says Hughes. “Also posing a challenge to business owners is that there are few black enterprises of scale that can handle such daunting projects. It’s the proverbial catch 22; black-owned firms need to be large enough to handle these projects but need the business to get to that scale.”

President George W. Bush addressed some of the black business community’s concerns in his Sept. 15 address to the nation. “What wasn’t mentioned were contracting opportunities which would grow black business and in turn, increase the number of black employees and generate higher average incomes in a city that has long been plagued by poverty and crime,” says Hughes. “With rebuilding costs estimated at well over $100 billion, African American business participation could provide the stimulus needed to create jobs and bring some of the displaced African American city residents back home. But that’s only if the black community is included when contract recipients are decided.”

Alden McDonald, president & CEO of New Orleans-based Liberty Bank & Trust Company, who was recently named to the rebuilding commission formed by Mayor C. Ray Nagin (eight blacks and eight whites sit on the 16-member board), is optimistic. “We have our work cut out for us, but black folks have never had it easy. We’ve always had to work as if there was a Depression.” The SBA’s Cornelius is also optimistic about opportunities for black business. “I can assure you that we’re going to rebuild New Orleans … and we’re going to have good and solid representation of African Americans in those rebuilding efforts.”

“Many questions remain regarding the fate of black business in the hurricane affected region,” says Hughes. “But without significant representation in the rebuilding process these businesses and the jobs they create will be swept away.”

The November issue of BLACK ENTERPRISE is available on newsstands now.

Via PRNewswire

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