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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

More minorities going it alone- Self-employment gains favor

BY JEFF MCKINNEY | JMCKINNEY@ENQUIRER.COM

A growing number of black, Indian, Hispanic and women baby boomers are walking away from corporate jobs and taking their skills, experience and pay to launch new businesses.

The most recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau show the total number of black-owned businesses, for example, totaled 6,941 in 2002 in the Cincinnati metropolitan statistical area, up nearly 47 percent from 1997.

During the same time, the number of women-owned firms rose about 28 percent, to 40,008, while Hispanic-owned firms jumped 65 percent, to 1,238. Butler County in Ohio, Bracken County in Kentucky, and Franklin County in Indiana were added to the 2002 data.

Moreover, the percentage of self-employed people between ages 55 and 65 climbed 33 percent last year from 2006, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

There are now at least 3 million entrepreneurs 55 and older, up one-third from 2000, according to the labor bureau.

"The number of baby boomers starting their own businesses is surging," says Kathy Keller, a spokeswoman for the advocacy group AARP Ohio.

As more companies are downsizing and outsourcing jobs, more veteran minority professionals are choosing self-employment as an option to generate income, says Rea Waldon, senior vice president of the Urban League of Greater Cincinnati's Economic Empowerment Center.

She said many baby boomers are taking severance packages and using them to start their own businesses, or are investing in other businesses as silent partners.

"Some of these baby boomers might also start their own businesses because of their age and changing personal values," Waldon said.

Majid Dosani, owner of ACE Products LLC, started his company in 2001 in his basement while working as an engineer for a local environmental engineering firm.

ACE Products is a Blue Ash-based office-supply company that sells more than 50,000 items, including office and printing supplies and business machines.

Dosani landed a contract in 2003 to provide office supplies to Cincinnati Public Schools as part of its supplier diversity program. He invested between $5,000 and $10,000 to open his Blue Ash location that year and left his corporate job in 2004 after 17 years.

Dosani, 50, says changing his lifestyle to run the business was among his biggest challenges.

Though he had to learn the office-supply business quickly, Dosani says the challenge of doing something different has made the gamble worth it. His store is expected to post sales of over $1.5 million this year, up from about $1 million last year, he said.

But like other baby boomers, Dosani has no plans to retire soon, though his income is higher now than when he had a corporate job.

He plans to stay in business until he can put his children - ages 17, 14 and 11 - through college.

"It will be at least another 10 years before I retire, but the good thing is I'm enjoying what I do," Dosani says.

Brenda J. England, owner of England's Elegant Attire, initially opened the business in 1996 and operated it part time while working as an associate engineer at Procter & Gamble Co.

She left P&G in 2000 after 25 years to expand her business.

England's business has grown from being a formal-wear consignment shop in North College Hill to a bridal and formal-wear business in Northgate Mall in Colerain Township.

Her current store is 3,900 square feet - about twice as big as her previous store - and it offers many more services, she said.

England, 58, says her time at P&G gave her the income, multi-tasking ability and people skills to run her own business.

She estimates she has invested about $20,000 of her own money into the business.

"The corporate experience gave me the assertiveness I needed to be an entrepreneur," England says.

While more minorities are becoming entrepreneurs, they still face barriers and challenges as new businesses owners, the Urban League's Waldon says.

She listed access to capital, being able to land projects, and failure to solicit managerial support and resources outside of the businesses among the biggest challenges.

"Those are real challenges for many minority entrepreneurs because they are cornerstones for growing your business," she says.

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Cathy Harris is an Empowerment and Motivational Speaker, Non-GMO Health and Wellness Expert, Self-Publishing and Business Coach.