Where’s our piece of the pie?

Anyone over a certain age knows the lyrics by heart.
“Well, we’re moving on up…”
The theme song of the Jeffersons helped introduce a new archetype to American society — the successful black enterpreneur.
It came at a time when 80 percent of black workers were laborers and domestics; with only 40,000 black professionals and managers and D. Parke Gibson wrote of the $30 Billion Negro.
The Jefferson’s generation took the song to heart. Now black income approaches $1 trillion, there are two million black enterpreneurs and Barack Obama is president of the United States.
Learning that the Obama administration is providing a $2 billion loan guarantee to a German bank and industrial firm to build a solar power installation in the Mojave Desert brought the song to mind.
We’ve been analyzing an assortment of data for the eighth annual State of Black Business report. Although $8.5 billion in federal contracts went to African-American owned businesses in 2010, the figure represents less than two percent of the $500 billion in U.S. purchases. Precious little went to black-owned manufacturers like Excellatron in Atlanta, which got three awards for a little over $2 million, or Encap in Orlando or Epitaxial Systems in Baltimore.
As we tour the country in our State of Black Business Forum series, we’re asking the question. Since we obviously have a piece of the action in the American economy, where’s our piece of the pie?
During the past 10 years, many joined the national lemming rush towards housing and accelerating housing values as the pecan pie that would provide America’s desert.
In many African-American communities, that has resulted in brand new “affordable” housing units going on line just in time for the gentrification of the neighborhoods.
Perhaps, the tail went before the horse, and there’s some justification for feeling we were intentionally led astray.
By contrast, Bloomberg Businessweek reports this week that China has $3 trillion in reserves, a sum that would allow it to buy assets like the entire borough of Manhattan or the U.S. Department of Defense (lock, stock and cruise missile) with ample room to spare.
All this has happened in the twenty years since the development of the first personal computer.
“…to the East Side, to a dee-luxe apartment in the city…”
Did George Jefferson lead us wrong?
If the objective was “…up in the big leagues, getting our turn at bat…”, then our song should include the archetype of Roy Clay Sr., who was actually creating businesses at the same time.
More than three decades later, he insists on manufacturing and on hiring from black neighborhoods.
Today, there are 31,000 more black technology enterpreneurs like Clay.
Since our Innovation & Equity Symposium: Spurring Manufacturing Through Innovation in Black Community in January, we’ve stressed that the real way to move from a “piece of the action” to a “piece of the pie” is through the 1,000 black inventors per year who gain patents.
We’ve faced the persistence of the attitude that black business is not a viable part of the overall economy and not worthy of policy makers attention. The 100 largest government contractors gobble up 53 percent of government procurement, while creating precious few jobs.
In a metropolis like Los Angeles, with a half million African-Americans, icons like Golden State Mutual and the Magic Johnson Theater have been shuttered. The largest black bank, New York’s Carver Federal Savings Bank, is in trouble with regulators.
We have to face the reality that a sound economic foundation for black America and the rest of America begins with manufacturing. That will lead to wholesaling, distribution and retailing, plus the services required for their workers.
As we travel, we’re identifying the companies locally which can be the foundation for viable community economic revitalization. Starting with housing, retail, entertainment or services dooms those experiments to failure.
Clay and other black engineers started manufacturing companies in the late 1960s and 1970s to support the growth of a new majority black city, East Palo Alto.
Their vision was so far-sighted that other nations around the globe copied it. We just haven’t done it here in the United States.
Let’s get to the last verse of the Jefferson’s theme song.
“…we’ve finally got our piece of the pie!”

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