Numbers show black-owned firms booming in Houston

legalwatchWASHINGTON – After years of working for others, Jean Johnson saw an opportunity to seize her own destiny in 1997.

Johnson, an African-American who lives in Houston, quit her job as an in-house lawyer for Exxon Mobil Corp. and went into business for herself, teaching company executives strategies for avoiding lawsuits.

“The only way you can control your future is to be in control,” said Johnson, 45, founder of Houston-based LegalWatch. “It’s something that I always wanted to do.”

Stories like Johnson’s are playing out more and more across the U.S. and Texas, as black entrepreneurs launch companies at a pace far exceeding the average startup rate for all businesses.

According to U.S. Census Bureau data released Tuesday, the number of black-owned businesses in Texas rose by 47 percent between 1997 and 2002. That growth was more than triple the statewide increase for all businesses.

In Harris County, the number of black-owned businesses jumped 35 percent, compared with the county’s overall increase of 25 percent.

The local increase was in line with the national trend. The number of black-owned companies grew by 45 percent, more than four times the nationwide rise of 10 percent for all businesses.

Experts say the black business boom is a sign of changes in the corporate world.

“It’s an indication that both the public and private sectors are looking more and more for minority businesses to work with,” said Hopeton Hay, a program manager at the University of Texas who aids minority-owned businesses. “It creates an atmosphere where people see opportunity, and when people see opportunity, they feel more comfortable taking the necessary risks.”

This is happening all over the country, said Ying Lowrey, an economist in the advocacy office of the U.S. Small Business Administration.

There are a lot of state and local governments that are working to foster minority-owned businesses, Lowrey said.

“Rather than give them fish, you give them a fishing pole,” Lowrey said.

Richard Huebner, president of the Houston Minority Business Council, sees negative and positive reasons for the growth in black-owned businesses.

“On the sad side is the fact that African-Americans still suffer the most discrimination of any group,” Huebner said. “That compels the African-American to explore alternatives as opposed to being limited or undervalued in current positions. We’ve also seen growing success of individual African-Americans that provide examples of how success can be achieved.”

The majority of Texas’ black-owned businesses were engaged in machinery repair and cleaning services. Other popular fields were health care, customer service and waste management.

Even though the most recent data was from 2002, signs indicate the boom may be accelerating. According to SBA figures, the number of loans taken out by black entrepreneurs increased nationally by 18 percent from 1997 to 2002. They increased by 39 percent from 2004 to 2005, Lowrey said.

The eye-popping figures don’t surprise UT’s Hay.

“The growth of African American businesses has always exceeded growth of all business in recent years,” Hay said. “We’re really just catching up because we’ve been underrepresented.”

Credits/Source: DIRK VANDERHART, Copyright 2006 Houston Chronicle Washington Bureau | April 19, 2006

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