Creme de la creme
L.A. County�s black business top tier
Every since 1969, when the United States Census Bureau first began creating special reports that examined minority-owned businesses across the nation, the Los Angeles metropolitan region has been one of the top spots for African American firms.
While the Bear Flag state has the fifth highest concentration of African American residents�trailing in order of population New York, Georgia, Florida and Texas�the state lays claim to having the second largest population of African American-owned firms�112,873. This trails New York�s 129,324 black businesses. And when you look deeper, Los Angeles County has the second largest concentration of African-American businesses (52,674) following only Cook County in Illinois, which has 54,758 black companies.
In recognition of Black Business Month, Our Weekly has compiled a list of the top African American-owned business in Los Angeles County-area based on readily available information. Using $5 million in sales, revenues, assets or billings (depending on the company) as the cut-off point, we ranked the firms from highest to lowest.
Companies were included in the list if they met the following criteria�information on their 2007 sales, revenue, billings or assets was provided either by the firm principals or reported by credible sources such as Dun and Bradstreet, Black Enterprise magazine or the Los Angeles Business Journal; they were based in Los Angeles County; and ownership was at least 51 percent African American.
What is evident is that the top firms truly represent a cross section of industries. The second oldest of the companies is a publicly traded firm with a member from one of the founding families still at the helm, and the youngest company is a mere nine years old.
The oldest firm opened its doors in 1925 and was a pioneer in meeting the insurance needs of African American consumers. Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Company began in a one-room office on a street that was once the �Black Belt� of Los Angeles. Within a year, the business had offices in Oakland and Los Angeles, and two years later there were more than 100 employees including 60 agents and branches in Pasadena, Bakersfield, San Diego and Fresno.
Four of the firms on the list are also woman-owned or headed including the number one company, Act One Group, which has sat atop listings of the biggest African-American owned firms for years. In 2007, it was the third largest African American firm in the nation, according to Black Enterprise magazine.
What makes Los Angeles County such a good place for small firms to develop and grow is a mixture of the numbers, environment and an never-say-die entrepreneurial spirit that drives people in the region.
�It�s the sheer size of the county,� pointed out Jack Keyser, chief economist for the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation. LACEDC�s mission is to attract, retain and grow businesses and jobs in the regions of Los Angeles County, as well as to identify trends and affect positive change for the local economy.
�A lot of people don�t understand how big it is. There are 10.3 million residents (in Los Angeles County). We have a larger population than about eight states, and that means a lot of opportunity. There is always an entrepreneurial sprit in Los Angeles; a lot of people think they can start things. And we have support programs (to help them) from the Service Corp of Retired Executives (SCORE) to a lot of banks that have minority lending programs. You won�t find this array of activity in smaller areas.�
Los Angeles County is also a very competitive market for banks, which makes the region an optimal place for people with a viable idea, who are well prepared and have a realistic picture of what they can do in a business, said Keyser.
Dean Jones, chief executive officer of the Southland Partnership Corporation, and a native of Los Angeles said there is a particularly strong connectivity among the trade associations in Southern California that are serving African American businesses.
�What that means (for African American businesses) is an emphasis on creation of places in which companies can grow in retail and commercial,� said Jones, whose partnership is a business strategy and marketing organization. �If the trade groups, which I know they are doing, are attempting to get major corporations to open more opportunities, companies can grow with greater contract access. And likewise banks are more willing to make loans to companies with growth potential.�
The vibrancy of the Southern California region even draws African-American organizations from other parts of the state to hold their events in the area and encourages those home-grown companies to stay put when planning functions, added Jones.
And contrary to what many people think, Keyser said Los Angeles is not just the land of movie making. �This is a hill we are constantly climbing. We don�t know how to get it into people�s heads (that the industries are very diverse.) In fact, four of the top 10 engineering firms in the country are in Los Angeles County. We are still the manufacturing center of the U.S., the international trade capital, the entertainment trade capital; the capital of apparel and fashion, and we bring a multicultural aspect to that,� noted Keyser.
African American-owned firms are a major part of this mix. Several of our top 14 firms have staked their claim in the apparel industry and between them account for more than $100 million in revenue.
And these are not like the black businesses he grew up with, agrees Jones, who was raised near the Central Avenue section in the 1950s, which was a hotbed of black business activity. �My parents started a retail cleaners in 1996, and prior to that I was looking at the businesses in and around Central Avenue and Avalon. We were very versed (in the 1950s and 1960s) in retail. There were cobblers, hair care (places), small stores, small boutiques, auto repair and even a black-owned filling (gas) station. Then in the 1970s, there was such a large push after the civil unrest of the 1960s for integration that everybody wanted to work for big companies with good pension plans.�
Jones said that trend lasted through the 1970s and 1980s and into the 1990s, when he said black folks �woke up.�
�Even Jesse Jackson was saying, now we want to own the bus company,� Jones pointed out.
This has created a different caliber of black business owners, said Jones. They are people who have retired from or been laid off of Fortunate 1000 companies who have taken their money, know-how and sophistication to create more professional and technology-type companies. Contemporary African American entrepreneurs in Los Angeles operate consulting, accounting, human resources, legal and other types of similar firms.
Jones believes that they have left much of the retail sector to immigrants including people of African descent from the Caribbean and Africa. But while he acknowledges the higher level of business development, Jones also believes that African Americans also need to own the Super Cuts and the automotive chains.
The business CEO is optimistic about the future of African American business for several reasons: � I have seen a small trend of individuals buying exiting businesses. I (also) recently had an opportunity to review business plans at Washington High School, and I was pleased to see the social entrepreneurial aspect of so many of the students. They are looking into really helping people whether it�s wheelchair access for third world countries or child safety surveillance.�
This push toward self employment will be a critical move for the future, believes Jones because many corporations are so streamlined that the job opportunities that flourished in the 1970s and 1980s just do not exist today. And as the Small Business Administration notes each year�small businesses employ the majority of people in America.
The top black firms in Los Angeles are playing a major part in this fact as well. This first list of the who�s who among African American firms is the highlight of what is happening in the Los Angeles black business community and represents some of the brightest of the bright.
Company Name Revenue Location Employees Year founded
Act 1 Group $800 million* Torrance 350 1978
Broadway Federal Bank $300 million (assets) Los Angeles (Public) 66 1946
Golden State Mutual Life Insurance $113 mill (assets) Los Angeles 278 1925
Muse Communications $75 million (billings) Los Angeles 45 1985
Karl Kani International $72 million* Hollywood 54 1989
Beauchamp Distributing Co. $63.5 million* Compton 160 1973
Ford of Montebello $49.453 million* Montebello 86 1999
Marc Wear $40.656 million* Los Angeles 51 1993
Americus Credit Group $40.2 million* Los Angeles 34 1994
Blackstone Consulting Inc. $26.7 million* Los Angeles 480 1991
Computer Consulting Operations $25 million* Culver City 100 1985
Concession Management Services $25 million* Los Angeles 300 1996
Concourse Concessions Inc. $10 million* Inglewood 39 1992
La Grant Group $5.641 million* Los Angeles 23 1990
(*Where it does not specifiy assets or billings, the figures are revenue.)