Archive for April, 2009

A few bad apples ruin minority business programs

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

There are always a few bad apples in any organization or program, and minority business programs are no exception. Take for example Wallace Construction in Rhode Island.

According to a story in the Providence Journal, Wallace was certified as a minority owned business and eligible to participate in federally-funded transportation projects that targeted contracting/subcontracting a portion of the business with minority owned businesses. Christina Rosciti, the daughter of a principal in a much larger construction firm, purchased a 49% interest in Wallace apparently for the sole purpose of using it as a front to keep more of the business in the family.

All was going swimmingly until the founder Wallace (an African American male) died, and the authorities began to question the firm’s minority status. In order to qualify for the federal minority owned business program (and most state and local programs), firms must be majority owned AND controlled by minorities. After the founder’s widow assumed the title of President, the firm had its minority status reinstated.

The reinstatement occurred in spite of several disturbing facts. Neither the founder’s widow nor Rosciti had any previous executive management experience. Rosciti had not paid taxes in years and clearly lacked the financial resources to buy her equity stake in Wallace, which was not a successful business until becoming the beneficiary of millions of dollars of business from Rosciti’s family businesses. There was also evidence that 15 employees were employed by both Wallace and Rosciti’s companies.

Minority business programs are intended to give legitimate companies opportunities to compete and grow. If a majority company acquires a significant interest in a minority owned company, brings in its own people, and funnels business to it, the minority owner becomes nothing more than a front for the majority owners. These fronts give both the program and the legitimate minority owned companies a bad name, and should be aggressively investigated and banned from the program.

Ethnicmajority Business page.

Supreme Court takes on race cases

Tuesday, April 21st, 2009

While the election of Barack Obama has signaled a more liberal attitude towards diversity in politics by the American public, we shouldn’t forget that the Supreme Court still has considerable authority over race relations through its case decisions. Here the Bush legacy lives on in the form of Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito. Their appointments by Obama’s predecessor have turned the court far to the conservative side and their opinions thus far on race issues have not been encouraging.

This session the court will take on four significant civil rights cases.

The most high-profile case involves a promotions test for New Hampshire firefighters the results of which were set aside because no African Americans and only one Hispanic American passed. The firefighters who passed the test are suing to eliminate any diversity considerations from the promotion eligibility process.

There is also a challenge to the Voting Rights Act that questions Congress’ authority to enforce voting rights at the State and local level, an English-only case in Arizona public schools, and discriminatory lending case in New York.

The conservative leanings of the court already do not create an optimistic view toward potential rulings, but it seems that the country is in a different place on race relations since Obama’s election. The election of the first African American President has created an “anything is possible” attitude, in spite of a worsening economy, two wars raging on, and fragile international relations.

With all of these problems and a black man as President, are race relations even an issue? Stay tuned to see how the Supreme Court gives its two cents.

For more information, see related stories in the USA Today and Washington Post.

Ethnicmajority Civil Rights page.

Why are there no black pro golfers (other than you know who)?

Wednesday, April 8th, 2009

We now have the same number of African Americans playing the PGA and LPGA golf tours as we have Presidents of the U.S. – one. And his name is Tiger Woods.

Tiger’s success was supposed to bring a whole generation of African American golfers who could turn pro, but that has just not happened. There were more black pros on tour decades ago after the color barrier was broken by Charles Sifford.

So what happened? I think the answer is more about access than it is about racism. Golf is an expensive sport, not just to play, but also for equipment, instruction, and quality practice facilities. And while there are programs like First Tee that help expose golf to low-income kids, this is not enough to give someone with talent the years of financial backing that it takes to see if they are good enough to turn pro.

In a recent episode of ESPN’s Outside the Lines program where this issue was discussed, there were two schools of thought. Former pro basketball player Julius Erving (who now owns a golf course) took a position similar to mine – that the main problem is access. Others on the program blamed the problem on discrimination by the clubs and others who want to keep the status quo, and complained that the tours and Tiger Woods don’t do enough to promote diversity in the sport.

While I do think there is some truth to these points, this smacks more of victimization rather than the harsh reality that golf is an expensive sport. You can say the same thing about other sports, such as auto racing, skiing, sailing, and ice hockey. Not a lot of diversity in those sports either.

Here’s the ESPN Outside the Lines program:

Be careful what you wish for

Friday, April 3rd, 2009

The anti-immigration folks are getting what they wished for. According to research conducted by Vivek Wadhwa at Duke and University of California Berkeley funded by the Kauffman Foundation, skilled immigrants are moving back to their home countries in droves. Because there are no statistics covering this issue, the research team conducted a detailed survey of over 1200 Indian and Chinese immigrants who had worked or received education in the U.S. and returned to their home countries, and the results are illuminating.

It’s no surprise that the surveyed immigrants’ initial motivations for coming to the U.S. was for professional and educational opportunities. It’s also not a surprise that many immigrants miss their families and friends, and run into significant language and cultural barriers. And in spite of this America has been the unquestioned land of opportunity by the rest of the world for decades.

What is surprising is how rapidly the opportunity gap between America and the rest of the world is narrowing. According to the survey, 87% of the Chinese and 62% of Indians felt they had better longer-term professional growth opportunities in their home countries than in the U.S. And this wasn’t just because the respondents had overstayed their work visas – 30% of the them were either permanent residents or citizens of the U.S.

Even though immigrants make up 12% of the U.S. population, they make up 24% of the science and engineering bachelor’s degrees, and 47% of the science and engineering workers who have PhDs. They have also co-founded some of our most successful technology firms, such as Google, Intel, eBay, and Yahoo.

This brain drain is significant, especially in light of the worsening economic conditions in the U.S. The long-term solution is a well-educated workforce that can be innovative enough to develop new technologies and rebuild the manufacturing sector.

Too bad so many Americans view immigrants as part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

Ethnicmajority Workplace page.

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