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Census shows more black-, woman-owned businesses

By Bob Johnson
Associated Press Writer

MONTGOMERY — Hobson Cox has owned Affordable Eyewear in downtown Montgomery for almost 20 years. It's a business that he started in his home and now takes up much of a block in downtown Montgomery. The business has 11 employees and two franchise locations.

Cox is black, but don't call him a black businessman.

"I don't want any kind of designation. I am just a businessman," said Cox, 57.

He is one of a growing number of black Alabama residents who own their own businesses. According to a U.S. Census Bureau survey released last week, the percent of Alabama businesses owned by blacks climbed by nearly 50 percent from 1997 to 2002. It went from 5 percent in 1997, when 19,077 were owned by blacks, to 9.3 percent in 2002, when 28,684 had blacks at the helm.

According to the survey, nationally about 5.2 percent of businesses are owned by blacks.

The survey also shows that more than 26 percent of Alabama businesses were owned by women in 2002, compared to about 24 percent in 1997. Counting businesses in which a woman and her husband or another man are co-owners, the 2002 number goes up to 36 percent.

Steady progress

While the survey does not show a major jump in the number of black- and women-owned businesses, Annette Watters, director of the Alabama Data Center at The University of Alabama, said the numbers are encouraging considering that the economy struggled during the last part of the period from 1997 to 2002.

"This is a positive story, but we could aspire to do even better," Watters said. "We have a lot of room to improve and we should be promoting black entrepreneurship."

Blacks make up slightly more than one-fourth of Alabama's population, and women make up slightly more than half.

Cox, sitting in the fitting room at Affordable Eyewear, said the numbers show that more blacks are realizing the benefits of owning their own businesses rather than working for someone else.

"We all can't work for Wal-Mart or for the government," said Cox, who manages his business along with his wife, Ramona.

He said running his own business suits his personality better than working for the government, like many workers in the state capital.

"The last government job I had was when I was in Vietnam," Cox said.

Secrets to success

He said the secrets for succeeding in business are the same for blacks as for anyone else — offering good service, charging a competitive price and not standing still.

"With all the energy I have, I usually outrun the people I compete against," he said.

Gender no obstacle

Kathy Preskitt owns three Nextel wireless communications dealerships in Montgomery and said being a woman has not made it difficult for her to succeed as a business owner.

"I don't really think I face anything different than a man faces. People respect women and realize that we know what we are doing. We do a very good job at what we do," said Preskitt, 42.

She said her secret to success has been enthusiasm and having fun.

"We're growing and having a lot of fun doing it. I love to get up and go to work," she said.

Watters said the number of businesses owned by women is significant.

"A quarter of all of the businesses in the state are owned by women. That is good. It shows women can do good in business and it's a tribute to the economy," Watters said.

Lifestyle issue

The director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses in Alabama, Rosemary Elebash, attributed the growing number of black and women business owners to people looking for a different lifestyle.

"They are true entrepreneurs. They see a service or product that interests them and they come forward as independent business owners," she said.

Elebash said the increasing number of women who own their own businesses is part of a national trend that is seeing more women going into many areas traditionally considered mostly for men.

"There are more women going to medical school and to law school," she said.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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