Executive Letter: Celebrating and Supporting Black-Owned Businesses

Rose Oswald PoelsBy Rose Oswald Poels

In honor of August being Black Business month, I’d like to highlight some of the ways Black-owned businesses contribute to our economy and communities throughout the year. Historian John William Templeton and engineer Frederik E. Jordan, Sr. founded National Black Business Month in 2004, and Governor Tony Evers has proclaimed August as Black Business Month throughout the state of Wisconsin.

Wisconsin is home to thousands of Black-owned businesses, and as you savor the last moments of summer, there’s no better time to add some new favorites to your list of places to eat, drink, shop, stay, and do business. Travel Wisconsin has compiled a gallery of over 200 photos of Black-owned businesses across the state to get you started. If you’re in the Madison area, be sure to check out the ConnectBlack business directory, which was developed by Park Bank in partnership with Madison365. MKE Black is another resource to find Black-owned businesses in the Milwaukee area.

To provide some context on the impact of minority-owned businesses in our state, a UW-Extension analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data shows that there has been tremendous growth in minority-owned businesses in the United States. In 1992, 2.149 million minority-owned businesses accounted for 12.5% of the total U.S. businesses. By 2012 (the most recent year the survey was conducted), there were 7.952 million minority-owned businesses, an increase of 270 percent. In 2012 in Wisconsin, 9.4% of the total 433,000 businesses in the state were minority owned. A more recent survey showed that there are approximately 124,550 Black-owned businesses in the U.S., with about 28.5% of these businesses in the health care and social assistance sector, the highest percentage of any minority group. In Wisconsin, there are currently over 400 members of the African American Chamber of Commerce.

Black-owned businesses — which, on average, are smaller than non-minority owned businesses in terms of number of employees and revenue — face unique challenges and have been disproportionally hit by the pandemic. In spite of that, there are many Black-owned Wisconsin businesses that continue to succeed and play an important economic and cultural role. Yelp reported earlier this year that consumer interest in diverse businesses is up, and there was a 3,085% YoY surge in searches for Black-owned businesses from February 2020 to February 2021.

Beginning in January, several bankers joined me in a special working group organized by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) focused on developing solutions to help BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) business owners with revenues of $250,000–1,000,000 receive continued technical assistance along with more direct access to the banking system. Some of the focus areas identified include creating centralized resources and directories for business owners and bankers. Our work with WEDC on these initiatives is ongoing. Improving access to capital is a critical step in closing the racial wealth gap, and this group is just one of the examples of how bankers are promoting equity and financial inclusion.

There is a lot to celebrate about Wisconsin’s Black-owned businesses, from the products and services they offer to the jobs they create and the ways they give to their communities. Thank you for all you are doing to support and celebrate with these businesses.