The Daily Record: Diversity in business fuels our economy

Don Fry headshot - July 2015

Editor’s note: The following commentary appeared on TheDailyRecord.com on October 15, 2015.

By Donald C. Fry

If you want a sense of how minority and women-owned businesses can move the needle on the economy, inspire the world with new ideas, and change lives, consider Juxtopia.

This small Baltimore company specializes in developing wearable biomedical and information technologies. These products are aimed at improving how people perform and learn when dealing with complicated tasks. For example, one product in development is a pair of goggles to provide combat medics with on-demand, step-by-step instructions to care for wounded soldiers in the field. Another is a device that helps electrical engineering students learn how to assemble printed circuit boards via a virtual instructor.

That’s all pretty cutting edge, and just a few of the innovative products and ideas the company is working on these days.

Juxtopia was founded by Jayfus Doswell, who says he’s traced his family routes back to the first documented African-American child born in Jamestown, Va. Not only has Doswell built an enterprising company, he’s launched a nonprofit arm, the Juxtopia Group, to interest youths from disadvantaged communities in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills and careers.

Doswell and his inspiring achievements underscore an emerging truth in the economy: To perform at its absolute best, the economy needs diversity.

Without strong diversity in the workplace and in the development of new businesses and companies, all the pistons in the economic engine just aren’t firing at full capacity, potentially resulting in weak performance or missed opportunities.

But when you do have strong diversity in company ownership and companies conducting business with minority and women-owned companies, the opposite is true. Diversity fuels higher performance and builds strength overall in the creation of new jobs and wealth in families, or what is sometimes referred to as legacy wealth.

The Center for American Progress notes that “diversity fosters a more creative and innovative workforce” and that “diversity is a key aspect of entrepreneurialism.”

These are just some of the reasons the Greater Baltimore Committee has put a strong focus on supporting and recognizing minority and women-owned business enterprises (MWBEs) in the region through its Bridging the Gap program, founded in 2003. The program focuses on supporting these businesses through training, advocacy and creating strategic partnerships and alliances.

Recognizing and celebrating the successes and accomplishments of minority and women-owned businesses is critically important. For that reason, next month, minority and women entrepreneurs and majority companies that have demonstrated support for MWBEs will be recognized at the GBC’s Bridging the Gap Achievement Awards event.

Last year, Juxtopia was just one of the interesting and dynamic companies that received a GBC Bridging the Gap Award. This year, on Nov. 12, the GBC plans to name other businesses and initiatives that serve as role models for why minority and women-owned businesses are vital building blocks for the regional economy.

It’s important that we showcase such companies to the Baltimore region, not just for their great achievements but also because they are indeed a critical component of the region’s ecosystem.

Don’t believe me?

Consider:

  • The Sage Policy Group, a consulting firm based in Baltimore, estimated in a study conducted a number of years ago that fully engaging MWBEs in the Baltimore region’s economy would result in the addition of 32,000 new jobs and $5 billion in revenue.
  • A study by McKinsey & Company, a business consultant, found that growth in women’s overall share of labor in the United States — about 47 percent now — accounts for about a quarter of the entire national GDP.
  • Nationwide, minority-owned businesses account for 5.8 million jobs, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.
  • The Center for American Progress says that business ownership is increasingly diverse. The center, using Census Bureau data, found that people of color own 22.1 percent of U.S. businesses and that women own 28.8 percent of U.S. businesses.

As these statistics show, progress is being made and the opportunity to expand and grow this vital segment of the economy abounds.

The key is to continue supporting, mentoring and cheering enterprising business founders like Jayfus Doswell at Juxtopia so the pistons of our economy keep firing as we head into the fast-changing economy of the future.

Donald C. Fry is President and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee. For more information on the Bridging the Gap Achievement Awards event visit www.gbc.org.

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