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Forging a new vision

MBDA National Director Ronald Langston visits the island as part of agency’s efforts to increase the number of minority owned businesses


May 2, 2002
Copyright © 2002 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) National Director Ronald Langston’s stay in Puerto Rico two weeks ago marked the first time an MBDA director visits the island in 10 years.

The purpose of his visit was two fold; to re-establish the relationship between Puerto Rico and the U.S. Department of Commerce-ascribed agency and to present MBDA’s new vision.

"Entrepreneurship is very important to this administration and to Secretary of Commerce Donald Evans," Langston told CARIBBEAN BUSINESS during an exclusive interview. "I’m here to re-establish the MBDA-Puerto Rico relationship."

Appointed the 14th MBDA director by Pres. George W. Bush on March 19, 2001, Langston is the first MBDA director to hold the title of national director in the agency’s history.

Langston’s goal is to fulfill MBDA’s mission of fostering the growth of minority-owned firms in the U.S.

At MBDA, Langston directs the Department of Commerce’s minority business development initiatives and assists Secretary Evans in implementing new strategies to better serve the minority business community.

Since his appointment, Langston has been busy trying to transform the agency, from an administrative response agency into "an entrepreneurial organization committed to business enterprise and job creation."

"This vision is very important, because what we would like to see is an entrepreneurial economy, organization, and presidency," he said. "MBDA ought to be like our constituents–focused on business bureaus, business best practices, and lessons learned, while reacting like a business. That calls for some transformation about culture."

And according to Langston, Puerto Rico will be included in the agency’s overall review and transformation.

"Puerto Rico is very important to us with respect to trade, communications, and in regards to a national comprehensive look at business enterprise," said Langston. "There are great businesses here, great entrepreneurs, and many success stories from which we would like to learn."

The fastest growing segment in the U.S. population between now and 2050 is the minority community, Langston said, adding that MBDA must find strategic answers to make sure that each segment of the minority business community is successful.

Langston found it "unacceptable" that none of his predecessors had visited the island in the last 10 years, assuring that this would be the first of several trips he will be making to the island in the future.

"I’m here to learn, to listen, and to re-establish a relationship," he said.

During his first visit to the island, Langston conversed with several government officials and private sector representatives. He was joined by MBDA Senior Business Specialist Raul Quiros and Business Advisor Juan Woodroffe.

As a senior strategic planner, one of Langston’s first orders of business at MBDA was to order a series of studies to ascertain the situation of U.S. minority businesses.

Last July, the U.S. Department of Commerce, through the Census Bureau and MBDA, released the 1997 Survey of Minority Owned Business Enterprises (Smobe) report and MBDA’s State of Minority Business.

"Hispanics have moved up in numbers very steadily across the field," said Langston. "Between 1992 and 1997, all minority businesses in the U.S. exceeded the rate of growth of all U.S. firms."

Second generation Hispanics are doing well as well as African Americans, Langston said, adding that for the first time, both minority groups have accumulated wealth that they can pass on to their children and grandchildren.

According to the Smobe report, between 1992 and 1997, all U.S. firms grew by 7%, whereas firms by African Americans grew by 26%, Native Americans (American Indians & Alaskans) by 84%, and Asian & Hispanics by 30% each. (See Chart 1). In terms of gross receipts, all U.S. firms grew by 40%, African Americans by 33%, Native Americans by 179%, Asians by 68%, and Hispanics by 49%.

"All gross receipts, with the exception of African Americans, were above the rate of all U.S. firms. These are very positive signs," said Langston. "Native Americans have done a very fine job in diversifying their industrial code portfolio."

Data also show that 27.3% of the U.S. population is of minority background, representing 14.5% of the businesses, employing 4.4% of the population, and their gross receipts amount to 3.2% of the U.S. total (See Chart 2).

"That 3.2% concerns me, because it should be between 27% and 30%," said Langston. "One of the tasks that I have as national director is to put together a strategy to move up those numbers."

Langston said the MBDA has strategies to increase those numbers. One of them is to employ business development centers to attract people that want to be in business.

"We have to coach minorities, so that they can be business owners. It’s important to encourage them to get into e-commerce," said Langston. "Technology can close the gap between those who have wealth and those who do not. Technology and e-commerce will close that gap."

The study also showed that Hispanics have the least amount of websites, need to take science and math, and must get on the Internet and into e-commerce. This can be achieved with good education, good investment, and getting the message out, Langston said.

Government can’t create wealth, but it can create an environment of wealth and entrepreneurship, Langston said, adding, "in business, risks can be taken and rewarded."

"We need more business development centers and more people to help us train a new generation of entrepreneurs. We need to continue the legacy of business opportunity in the U.S.," said Langston.

Langston expects to make another trip to the island by year’s end.


1992-1997 Growth rates of minority-owned firms

Number of firms Receipts Growth Rate(%) Growth Rate (%)
All U.S. firms 7 40
African American 26 33
Native American 84 179
Asian American 30 68
Hispanic 30 49
Source: Survey of Minority-Owned Business Enterprises


1997 Minority population & business shares of total U.S. (percent)

Population 27.3
Firms 14.6
Employment 4.4
Receipts 3.2
Source: Survey of Minority-Owned Business Enterprises

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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