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Landrieu Explores Plight of Black Businesses

James Wright | , WI Staff Writer | 9/26/2012, 11:49 a.m.

A U.S. senator who's known as a consensus builder and adept in dealing with various racial groups, convened a forum designed to assist beleaguered African-American businesses nationwide.

U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu [D-La.] sponsored a roundtable, "Closing the Wealth Gap through the African American Entrepreneurial Ecosystem" at the Russell Senate Office Building on Sept. 19. Landrieu, 56, is the chair of the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee, and noted the substantial wealth gap between blacks and whites.

"The U.S. Census shows that in 2005, the average wealth of a white household was $134,000 compared to $12,000 for blacks," she said. "In 2010, because of the recession white household wealth fell to $110,000 and so did blacks, to $4,995. The wealth gap got worse and we have to find a way to change that."

It's a well-documented fact that's been confirmed by economists that the keys to wealth in the U.S. for blacks - and most Americans - hinge on homeownership and entrepreneurship.

Landrieu said that Roland Burris, a black Democrat who served in the Senate and represented Illinois until 2011, challenged her as chair of the committee to find ways to help black business owners several years ago.

In response to Burris's dare, Landrieu established a round table - or a conversation - with black business leaders to shine light on the problem.

"That was three years ago and this is our third round table," she said. "We want to see what works for black businesses and what the hurdles they face are."

Black businesses are suffering, said Julius Ware III, a Ward 7 business owner and president of the Ward 7 Business and Professional Association. Ware, 53, said that black businesses have historically faced problems of funding their firms but noted that there are programs that cities and states have in place to help small businesses.

Ware said that black businesses need to know about these programs.

"These firms need to be certified to do business and work with programs [like] Operation Hope [in Southeast] to get more information on how to get capital and deal with other business related concerns."

Others agreed.

Phinis Jones, a well-known black businessman in Southeast, said that the Small Business Administration hasn't generally been responsive to the needs of black businesses. He pointed out that politicians like Landrieu need to talk to business owners.

"I am sick of experts on black businesses who really don't know what they are talking about," said Jones, 64.

D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) who also attended the event said the roundtable that Landrieu sponsored is "an important, difficult discussion."

"There was a lot of money used to repair federal buildings and every month there were published figures on how much business went to African American and small businesses," said Norton, 75. "We have to grab what is out there and African-American businesses cannot be left behind."

Norton also noted that the majority of black wealth is concentrated in home equity. However, the mortgage crisis has decimated that theory, she said.

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