Census data do show that the growth of minority-owned businesses nationwide has outpaced the average by almost two to one. From 2002 to 2007, the number of minority-owned businesses grew by 46 percent, to 5.8 million, or more than twice the rate of businesses as a whole.
However, an overwhelming majority of these businesses, 86 percent, reported having no employees. That means these businesses are typically smaller, more fragile, and less likely to grow. So despite the proliferation of minority businesses, a closer look reveals that they are among the weaker players.
That's not to say that there haven't been efforts to remedy these conditions. In addition to MED Week, established to recognize outstanding achievements by minority businesses and those who support them, there have been contributions by the city Office of Economic Opportunity, the state Small Business Procurement Initiative, and the federal Small Business Administration. And there is progress being made: Last month, the Nutter administration announced that the city had exceeded its goal of awarding 25 percent of city contracts to minority-, women-, and disabled-owned businesses.
It could be argued, however, that in a city where minorities represent a majority, 25 percent is a relatively low bar. In any case, it's clear that minority businesses are nowhere near where they need to be after generations of struggling.
Part of the struggle has been because even as the terrain has become more level, some of the mainstream players have been able to manipulate conditions to ensure that disadvantaged businesses stay that way - limiting the share of contracts given to minority businesses even when they can do more, blocking firms' efforts to make the leap from subcontractor to prime contractor, or claiming a lack of "qualified" disadvantaged businesses.
A level field will always be the goal. But it will take more to ensure that the ground we stand on remains solid, firm, and fair.
David W. Brown is the chairman of the board of advisers of WURD-AM (900), Philadelphia's only black-owned talk-radio station.