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Economy & Business

Why Does Milwaukee Have So Few Minority-Owned Businesses?


Over the past 15 years, the number of black and Hispanic businesses in Milwaukee has doubled. However, only 10,000 of the more than 112,000 companies in metro Milwaukee are minority-owned.

According to Marc Levine, a senior fellow at the UWM Center for Economic Development, Milwaukee ranks last in both black owned businesses per capita and Hispanic owned businesses per capita.

This week, a business development conference is underway in Milwaukee to celebrate successful minority business owners, while encouraging more.

An Outlier

WUWM’s LaToya Dennis caught up with a Milwaukee entrepreneur. Gordon Nameni runs from his bare bones office inside the Granville Business Development Center on the northwest side. is like Angie’s list, in that it allows users to search for local business reviews and submit their own. It differs, in that allows users to create a “trust network,” a select group of friends, with which to share reviews.

“If I’m going to a doctor or if I’m going to remodel my kitchen and I’m looking for reviews and a referral, I want to make sure that that review or referral is somebody that I know - even further, somebody that I trust,” Nameni says.

So far, Nameni, his three partners and five outside investors have pumped $100,000 into the operation. The 37-year-old black entrepreneur says Milwaukee is a great place for him.

“From an entrepreneurship standpoint I feel like the doors are open. I feel like there’s tons of resources out there,” Nameni says.

While Nameni says his experience as been positive, that is not always the case in Milwaukee.

The Norm

UWM’s Marc Levine believes there are two key reasons why Milwaukee has so few successful minority-owned businesses.

  • Milwaukee lacks networks that could provide sufficient capital to help minority entrepreneurs get their businesses off the ground.
  • Segregation plays a major role in the local minority business climate.

“Almost 90 percent of all the minority businesses in metro Milwaukee are located in the city of Milwaukee. Well, it just so happens that the city has been the slowest growing economic market in the region,” Levine says, so minority-owned businesses have less chance of developing rapidly.
Eve Hall, president of the African American Chamber of Commerce, adds a third reason:

  • Entrepreneurship isn’t promoted enough in Milwaukee’s minority communities.

“We used to have a saying in education, unfortunately, that students who attend urban settings are educated to work for someone else. Those educated in suburban areas are educated to work for themselves. We don’t push entrepreneurship enough in our minority communities,” Hall says.
Hall believes more minority-owned businesses would help the city reduce its high black male unemployment rate. The AACC is creating a revolving loan fund to lend start-ups between $1,500 and $25,000. The chamber hopes to have the program going by January 1, 2013.