Minorities taking money elsewhere

North Carolina businesses are missing out on billions in revenue from minority customers, according to a set of studies presented to a Charlotte Chamber audience Wednesday.

James Johnson, the studies' co-author and an entrepreneurship professor at UNC Chapel Hill, told a crowd of about 100 people that state and local businesses are not meeting the needs of the state's Hispanic and black consumers, who spent $1.1 billion and $5.2 billion respectively in other states instead of in North Carolina in 2004.

“There is literally millions of dollars in African American and Hispanic purchasing power that is leaking out of this very county,” Johnson said. “If you could find a way to meet the need of these consumers, imagine what it could do for Mecklenburg County's economy and its people.”

Johnson said the first step in recapturing that revenue for local business owners is to realize the power existing in the minority market. He then recommends creating focus groups to identify how minorities' consumer preferences could be met locally.

“A lot of the time it is not just the things they can buy, but also how they are treated when they walk in a store that impacts where they are spending,” he said.

According to the studies, African American consumers had an economic impact of $8.1 billion in the Charlotte area in 2004, and their economic activity was linked to 69,200 jobs. Hispanic spending created $2 billion in business revenue in 2004 and was linked to 16,900 jobs. In 2004, there were roughly 750,000 people employed in the Charlotte area, according to state figures.

North Carolina has the eighth largest black population and the fastest growing Hispanic population in the country.

Andrea Harris, president of the N.C. Institute for Minority Economic Development, which partnered with the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce to host the event, said Johnson's research was particularly important for a city as diverse as Charlotte. According to 2006 U.S. census data, 30 percent of Mecklenburg County residents are black and 10 percent are Hispanic.

“When people talk about diversity, we are the place,” Harris said. “If we can't get it right, no one can.”

Mary Tribble of the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce Diversity Council said having Johnson speak is part of the Chamber's continued efforts to increase the attention given to minorities in business.

“By having a real discussion of these issues, the Chamber can increase its relativeness to the community and show its members how to improve their business methods and tap into these markets,” Tribble said.

Teresa McDow said she planned to use information from the forum to help minorities and small businesses, which she works with through educational programs run by Mecklenburg County.

“Small businesses especially need to know about the economic impact the Latino and African American community can have,” she said.