Seattle: the nation’s “gateway to Asia.” – 6 Hot Cities for Black Business

Seattle: the nation’s “gateway to Asia.” – 6 Hot Cities for Black Business – includes related article on Mayor Norm Rice

Eric Houston

When Seattle hosted an international trade conference last November featuring President Clinton and leaders from more than a dozen Pacific Rim countries, the world got a glimpse of a city that has become a symbol: Home to some of the nation’s most dynamic high-tech firms, Seattle sets the standard for America’s aircraft industry.

Sitting on the edge of the continent, “the Emerald City” is poised to reap huge benefits from what business leaders and local officials hope will be an expansion of trade with countries such as China.

African-American entrepreneurs and professionals in Seattle–the nation’s so-called “gateway to Asia”–are seeking to get a piece of the action that could pump millions of dollars into the local economy. “If you’re serious, we’re the place to be,” says William E. McIntosh Jr., owner of North Seattle Chrysler-Plymouth Inc. (ranked No. 32 on the BE AUTO DEALER 100).

Starting four years ago, McIntosh–whose company has annual sales of about $28 million–has sold 400 new cars to Taiwan each year. McIntosh says he hopes last year’s historic trade conference will help him make inroads into other Asian markets.

McIntosh is one of a growing number of African-American entrepreneurs and professionals drawn to Seattle because of its mellow lifestyle and a business climate where deals are made while sipping espresso. Boeing, Microsoft and McCaw Cellular line up among those on its impressive roster of corporate players. And, although recent layoffs by aerospace giant Boeing have caused the local economy to stagnate, experts expect a turnaround.

“Newcomers can make it if they are strategic and have money,” says Regina Glenn Tyner, president of American Communications Enterprises Inc., a Seattle business consultancy, and publisher of Diversity Business News. But Tyner has a caution: “Don’t rely on one segment for your business.” This is especially true since Seattle–hometown of Quincy Jones and Jimi Hendrix–is only about 10% black.

Still, there is visible support for minority- and women-owned businesses. Last year, the state initiated the Linked Deposits program that will provide these entrepreneurs with up to $ 1 00 million in low-interest loans.

“African-Americans historically have been locked out of [access to] capital, and that’s why we have less than 3% of the businesses in the country. We are taking action to solve that problem in Seattle,” says Rev. Robert Jeffrey Sr., co-founder and executive director of the Black Dollar Days Task Force, a nonprofit economic development organization.

In January, Jeffrey’s task force initiated an effort to raise $1.5 million to nurture black-owned businesses and create inner-city jobs. But many African-American contractors say more needs to be done to make sure that blacks get a fair share of contracts and jobs. To the point, they cite the fact that black contractors are suffering a dramatic decline in their share of construction jobs.

“The corporations seem to be seeking minority participation, but the difficulty is with the phrases |good faith effort’ and ‘reasonable searches,'” says Clyde Merriwether, an architect and officer of the Northwest Minority Supplier Development Council.

Merriwether says programs encouraging participation by minority- and women-owned businesses need to be strengthened in order to be more effective.

MAYOR NORM RICE

Norm Rice, who became Seattle’s first African-American mayor in 1989, won an easy reelection last year, despite the fact that blacks comprise just 10% of the city’s population.

Rice, 50, is regarded as one of a new generation of African-American leaders across the nation who have exchanged 1960s idealism for 1990s pragmatism. Rice’s mayoral policies, described as those of a moderate Democrat, show a strong economic development bent that moves some business owners to gush.

“He’s the best thing that ever happened to the city,” says William E. McIntosh Jr., Ceo of North Seattle Chrysler-Plymouth Inc. “Norm has been very, very good for African-American businesses in the city of Seattle. We could not have a better ally.”

McIntosh and other Rice supporters say the mayor has used his post to make sure that African-American entrepreneurs get their fair share of procurements and contracts.

Earlier this year, Rice unveiled a plan that would make it easier for minority-and women-owned businesses to get a greater share of the $80 million in annual city purchases of goods and nonprofessional services. Under the plan, the city would award preference points to minority-and women-owned vendors in competitive bidding for large contracts and grant bonus points to such companies in bids involving extremely large purchase contracts. Rice has also set new goals for such contracts, aiming to award 5% of new business to minority companies.

But Rice’s critics are as staunch as his fans. Republican Nona Brazier, president of Northwest Recovery Systems, a Seattle garbage hauling firm, says the mayor hasn’t been aggressive enough in assisting African-American businesses.

Rice shakes off such criticisms. His new policies will “level the playing field,” he says, providing a “bigger piece of the pie for everybody.”

SEATTLE

AT A GLANCE

POPULATION

Total 516,259

Black 51,948

% Black 10.1%

FAMILIES

Total Families 113,856

Total Black Families 11,467

Ratio (Black:total) 1:10

THE MIDDLE CLASS

72.5% Of Seattle’s families are in the middle class

9.0% of Seattle’s middle class families are black 64.5% of all black families in Seattle are in the middle class Middle class = Family pretax-income range is $25,000 to $74,999

INCOME

Average Income $49,572

Black Average Income $30,449

SCHOOL Annual Estimated

Expenditure $256,789,000

Expenditure per student $5,660

OFFICE PHYSICIANS

General Practitioners 1,384

Specialists 2,916

CRIME

Total 12,255

Violent Major Crimes 1,364

Property Crime 10,891

PROCUREMENT Government dollars spent purchasing goods and services

Total $105,893,146

Minority/Women $24,927,162

FORTUNE 500 HEADQUARTERS Number 2

Sales $31.8 billion

Staff 145,248

BE 100S HEADQUARTERS

Company Sales Staff

North Seattle

Chrysler-Plymouth $28 million 50

Puget Sound

Chrysler-Plymouth $17 million 46

Total $45 million 96

UNEMPLOYMENT

Overall 6.1%

Black Average 18.7%

HOUSING

Median Monthly Rent $630

Median Home Value $135,800

BLACK BUSINESSES

Number of firms 1,639

Sales $86,809,000

Staff 1,517

COST OF LIVING

Composite index 117.7

COPYRIGHT 1994 Earl G. Graves Publishing Co., Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group