Black business struggles to grow in Arizona

Clarence McAllister said it took him 16 years to grow his company, Phoenix-based Fortis Networks.

He and his wife had to use personal credit cards to start the business because they couldn’t get a loan. And there weren’t many opportunities for him – or his fellow black business owners, he said.


Even now, he has to go out of state for contracts.

“It just takes time to establish yourself,” said McAllister, the president and CEO of Fortis, which specializes in engineering, construction and technology services.

McAllister, who has lived in Arizona for about 30 years, said he hasn’t seen a significant increase in black-owned businesses in the state since he moved here.

And the statistics indicate Arizona lags when it comes to black business owners.

African Americans made up about 5 percent of Arizona’s population in 2014, according to the U.S. Census.

But black-owned businesses accounted for just 2 percent of the total number of firms in the state, according to 2007 figures, the latest available. In comparison, about 7 percent of business owners were black nationwide.

The Census figures showed there were nearly 10,000 black-owned businesses in the state in 2007. But Black Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Kerwin Brown said they’re scattered throughout Arizona.

Brown said there is no established community of African American businesses.

“Everybody is so spread out, there is no quote on quote black business community,” he said. “Like in a lot of other cities, you’ll have a conglomerate of black businesses in one part of the city. We don’t have that here.”

Brown said the culture in the African American community “is almost every man for himself.”

Acquiring enough capital to get a business started has also been a major concern for black businesses, Brown said.

“For a while, banks just were not lending. They want you to have collateral. They want you to have a lot of different levels,” Brown said. “And once again, if you’re just starting out, that capital is hard to locate.”

McAllister said it makes work difficult when the community doesn’t put more emphasis on minority owned businesses.

“There’s no reason I should have, you know, more than 50 percent of my business out of state if I live here, and I’ve been here for 30 years in this community,” he said.

Mrs. White’s Golden Rule Café is among the few black-owned business in Phoenix. And despite the struggles the African American business community has faced, co-partner Larry White said he’s optimistic for the future.

“I see it as a lot of expansion here in the black businesses,” White said. “Arizona is a wonderful spot for African Americans to open up a business. I think it’s the number one spot there is you know. It’s a Sun Belt city,” White said.

The Phoenix City Council recently approved “My Brother’s Keeper Local Action Plan” to work with the community to help promote opportunities – including employment opportunities – and resources for people of color.


Editor’s note: Sources in the Public Insight Network informed the reporting in this story through a partnership with the Cronkite PIN Bureau. To send us a story idea or learn more, click here.

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