Forum focuses on minority, small business growth

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The Colorado Springs economy relies on its minority and small business owners — and business groups, government and other organizations need to take steps to continue to promote minority business ownership in the Springs.

That was the takeaway from the first Minority and Small Business Enterprise Diversity Summit, put on by the Hispanic Business Council. The group brought Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers and UCCS Economic Forum Director Tatiana Bailey together to discuss the economic impact of small- and minority-owned businesses, as well as how to promote and retain those companies.

The keynote speakers were followed by breakout sessions from business organizations like the Better Business Bureau, the Small Business Development Center and the Procurement Technical Assistance Center.

In El Paso County, the latest figures from the U.S. Census show that minority-owned businesses grew from the time period of 2009-2012. Hispanic business grew 55.9 percent, Asian businesses by 20.4 percent, black businesses by 3.1 percent, American Indian businesses by 45.6 percent and women-owned businesses by 10.9 percent.

Those numbers are reflected statewide as well. In the state, Hispanic businesses grew 90.2 percent, Asian businesses by 28 percent, women-owned firms by 21.5 percent. Asian-owned businesses increased by 28.6 percent and black businesses by 33 percent.

Other facts from Bailey’s presentation:

  • Minority owners are younger than non-minority business owners: 40 percent are younger than 45.
  • They are more likely to use technology.
  • 40 percent of minority owned firms have sales from abroad, which means they have a larger economic impact than businesses focused on doing business solely in the United States.
  • For minority-owned firms that last longer than five years, they experience greater growth: 43 percent have 11 percent annual growth, compared to 33 percent of non-minority owned businesses.
  •  In 2012 (the latest data available), there 8 million minority-owned businesses in the United States.
  • Estimates are that the number has grown to 11 million in the five years from 2012 to 2017.
  • Minority-owned businesses employed more than 6.3 million people and generate about $1.7 trillion annually in 2017.

The statistics show that it’s important for communities to provide the right education and infrastructure to reach minority and at-risk populations, Hancock said. That means more than just a focus on diversity.

“Diversity is being invited to the dance,” he said. “Inclusion is being allowed to dance. It’s a mindset, it’s not just a strategy. There’s no endpoint. You don’t get to say, ‘Now we’re finished having this discussion.’ It’s about constantly asking: ‘Do we have the right people at the table?’ ‘Whose voice are we missing?’ ‘How do we reach out to them and bring them in?'”

Denver is experiencing what Hancock termed a “cascade of opportunities.” Voters approved between $10 billion and $15 billion in infrastructure spending during the next 25 years. It’s time minority-owned businesses joined together to bid on those contracts.

“You don’t want to miss this,” he said. “If you want to bid on a project, don’t bid on just one part of it. Find other minority businesses to partner with you — and bid on them together. This will not happen again in our lifetime.”

For his part, Suthers said estimates show El Paso County will have 1 million people by 2050.

“The bottom line is that with population growth must come economic growth,” he said. “And that’s economic growth for everybody. Times are very good, in a community we must continue to work hard to develop jobs and create economic growth.”

Suthers said the event was a chance to celebrate the contributions of small businesses in Colorado Springs. Small businesses make up 92 percent of the local economy.

“They are a critical component of our economy,” he said. “Based on the latest data, which is about five years old, minority businesses make up about 16 percent of our businesses in El Paso County. We think at this point it time, it’s closer to 20 percent.”

There are 8,500 minority-owned firms in 2012, he said. And in 2017, the number was estimated to be 9,000.

“Colorado has the second-highest percentage of women-owned businesses,” he said, “second only to Alaska.”

The purpose of the event was to do more than just celebrate minority-owned businesses, the goal was to talk about ways to promote diversity in the local business environment.

Bailey gave some ideas:

• Raise awareness of the benefits of diversity in business and how it promotes U.S. economic growth.

• Look at what determines success for minority adults and their children: access to transportation, neighborhood initiatives, promote economic development as whole and promote diversity in the startup community.

Suthers invited the crowd to join one of the city’s 33 volunteer committees, and said there were myriad business opportunities within the city government.

“As the population changes, we need to make sure we are providing the right education,” Bailey said. “This is our future workforce, our future business owners. We need to provide the right start for them. It’s not easy and it’s not cheap — but it will pay off in the long-run.”