Special Correspondent: Larry Ivory
Despite there being 144,000 Black-owned businesses in Illinois that generate millions in taxable revenue for the state, Black businesses continue to be overlooked and undervalued by the State of Illinois. The disparity in State spending across all industries, with Black-owned companies is unacceptable. That’s why the Illinois State Black Chamber of Commerce, its members, and 12 affiliate chambers and chapters are calling for a meeting with decision-makers in Springfield to discuss these issues.
The Illinois State Black Chamber of Commerce is fighting mad. Despite there being 144,000 Black-owned businesses in Illinois that represent extremely diverse industries and generate millions in taxable revenue for the state, Black businesses continue to be overlooked and undervalued by the State of Illinois. The Central Management Services, which oversees the State’s more than 80 agencies, has an annual operating budget of $84.5 billion and is tasked with hiring the contractors and vendors that enable the state to take care of state business – delivering efficient, reliable services to the people of Illinois.
Sadly, very little of this annual budget and accompanying contracts are ever awarded to Black-owned businesses, even though Illinois’ Business Enterprise for Minorities, Women, and Persons with Disabilities Act (30 ILCS 575/) establish, as an aspirational goal, that not less than 20 percent of the total dollar amount of State contracts be awarded to businesses owned by minorities, females, and persons with disabilities. The Illinois Black Chamber of Commerce (ILBCC) was created to help right such inequities. Our mission is simple. We exist to empower Black enterprises in order to strengthen Black communities.
Our goal is for all Black businesses in Illinois to become sustainable, high-growth enterprises by assisting with building their capacity to compete effectively for local, state, and federal commercial contracting. Crafting solutions that directly help reduce economic disparities that impact our communities is what the State Black Chamber does. Recently, we joined forces with former employees of the Illinois Department of Transportation to demand an investigation of the recurrent and documented systemic racism at IDOT, which has a staggering budget of $23.4 billion this year.
We’re working together to ensure that Black Americans get a fair chance to reap the benefits of the tax dollars they’ve paid into the Federal Highway Fund, with reference to internal and external hiring as well as subcontracting opportunities. We’ve seen it time and again where state contracts created with the purpose of improving minority communities are not awarded to those most qualified to reach these audiences – entrepreneurs who look like us. Just take the U.S. Census Bureau.
For the 2020 Census, a White-owned agency was awarded a whopping half-billion-dollar contract with the U.S. Census Bureau, even though the campaign was aimed at providing community outreach to underserved and hard-to-reach populations … in other words, Black and brown folks. Multicultural agencies were brought on board as subcontractors, but even when we are awarded the contracts, the actual budgets allocated to do effective programming and place impactful ad buys with local and regional Black media are typically minuscule.
The disparity in State spending, across all industries, with Black-owned companies is unacceptable. We contend that things would have been much different if Black businesses had a seat at the table when that decision was being made. That’s why the ILBCC, its members, and 12 affiliate chambers are calling for a meeting with decision-makers in Springfield to discuss these issues.
In addition, the State of Illinois has a dismal track record of awarding contracts to Black-owned PR and advertising agencies whose work helps fuel Black media – newspapers, radio stations, and magazines. Black media entrepreneurs like Tom Burrell of Burrell Communications, the late Earl Graves of Black Enterprise Magazine and John H. Johnson of Jet and Ebony, and countless others whose pioneering efforts made Black history also became centerpieces of American history.
Black media purveyors are the frontline communications platforms for the Black community, routinely providing and covering stories about what’s happening in and to Black America. According to Nielsen Ad Intel, advertisers invested $18 billion on Black American-focused media in 2018, which represents 21 percent of the total $83 billion spent on advertising. The State’s inability to do business with Black media and Black PR and advertising agencies is unacceptable. Again, we demand a seat at the table.
Because of nationally televised and undeniably graphic videos of Blacks being beaten and murdered across this country, millions of Americans have “awakened” to the pandemic of racism and inequality that Black people have endured for centuries. We now want to “wake” the State of Illinois to the economic as well as social injustices that Black businesses here experience each time they are denied the opportunity to contract with the State because they weren’t invited to have a seat at the table.
Black-owned businesses account for nearly 20 percent of all businesses in Illinois. Doing business with Black-owned businesses not only benefits business owners, but when you hire and do business with Black-owned companies, you actually are investing in the broader Black community because Black businesses typically train and hire from within the community. This is economic development at its core, from the inside out.
The current social justice climate has ignited the flame for companies and brands across the country to step up and do more to ensure a more level playing field. Why should the state government be exempt from this clarion call? Our track record of successfully operating companies with multi-million dollar revenues should be proof enough to Governor J.B. Pritzker and the other powers in Springfield that Black-owned businesses are more than qualified and willing to handle their projects. We have earned our seats at the table!
(Larry Ivory is President & CEO of the Illinois State Black Chamber of Commerce. The Illinois State Black Chamber of Commerce is the largest Black trade organization in the state of Illinois, representing Black-owned businesses in diverse industries)