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Fast growth for black-owned firms

By Catherine Clifford, staff reporter

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Black-owned firms grew faster -- both in number and sales -- than U.S. firms did as a whole over a five-year period, according to the latest data available from the Census Bureau.

The number of black-owned businesses increased 60% between 2002 and 2007, more than three times the growth seen among all firms, according to the Census Bureau's business owners survey. Meanwhile, sales jumped 55%, vs. 34% for all businesses.

"Black-owned businesses continued to be one of the fastest-growing segments of our economy," said Thomas Mesenbourg, deputy director of the Census Bureau, in a written statement.

Despite the growth, black-owned businesses in 2007 make up just 7% of U.S. businesses. Yet African-Americans comprise about 13% of the population.

Black-owned businesses tend to be smaller too: 87% of black-owned firms had sales less than $50,000, compared to 65% of all firms. And most black-owned firms have fewer than five employees.

By state, New York had the highest number of black-owned businesses (204,032), followed by Georgia (183,874) and Florida (181,437). Georgia also saw fast growth in black-owned firms, jumping 103% in five years.

Two other states also saw black-owned firms double in that period, although the total number of businesses remained relatively small: Maine (with 743 black-owned firms) and North Dakota (just 163).

Among large cities, New York City had the most black-owned businesses (154,929, or 8.1% of the total). But Detroit had a higher percentage of firms that are black-owned (64%).

The Great Recession's impact

Of course, the economy has changed a lot since the latest survey was conducted in 2007. In the wake of the Great Recession, many small firms have seen demand sink and sales drop, in some cases forcing the business to close.

At the same time, layoffs have inspired many African-Americans to leave the corporate world to start businesses, said Alan Hughes, editorial director of business at Black Enterprise magazine.

Because of these competing trends, "it is tough to say at this point whether you see a net gain, loss or a wash," in black-owned businesses since 2007, said Hughes.

Also during the recession, credit dried up, hitting black-owned businesses particularly hard, said Lucy Reuben, a professor at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business.

"There is no lack of ideas and talent," said Reuben. But she said, "lack of capital continues to be a very, very difficult challenge for black business growth."

The Census conducts its business owners survey every five years. It defines black-owned businesses as privately held firms in which blacks own at least 51% of the interest or stock. Preliminary results were announced this summer; the final, detailed report on black-owned businesses was released this week.

CNN's Soledad O'Brien looks at how some are fighting debt from the pulpit in "Almighty Debt: A Black in America Special," in an encore presentation airing this Sunday, February 13 at 8 p.m. ET.  To top of page

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