Atlantic County’s African-American business community grew 15 percent from 2002 to 2007, outpacing the overall growth of business owners in New Jersey.

However, black-owned businesses in Atlantic County were, on average, smaller and generated less revenue than five years earlier, according to U.S. Census Bureau data released Tuesday.

The local data offer a mixed sign in Atlantic County, which added 192 new black business owners in those five years while generating about $25 million, or 18 percent, less in overall revenue.

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The Census Bureau’s 2007 Survey of Business Owners also details the size of the black business communities in Cape May, Cumberland and Ocean counties. The survey did not compile statistics for those counties in 2002.

In Atlantic County, there were 1,464 Atlantic County businesses owned by blacks in 2007, generating $109 million in receipts, the Census Bureau said. Five years earlier, the revenue for 1,272 black-owned businesses was $134 million.

Richard Perniciaro, director of Atlantic Cape Community College’s Center for Regional and Business Research, said the disparity may be subject to several high-revenue businesses moving or closing during that time frame.

“I would suspect it’s due to a quirk of a few businesses rather than an overall trend,” he said.

Among businesses that closed during that time frame were Piggy’s, an Atlantic City liquor store, and the Jewell Funeral Home, also in Atlantic City.

In New Jersey as a whole, the growth of African-American-owned businesses was more pronounced.

The state saw a 66 percent increase in the number of black-owned businesses, for a total of 60,366 in 2007, making it the fastest growing segment of the business community. Overall, business in New Jersey grew 10 percent by adding 73,193 businesses.

Statewide, black businesses earned $4.4 billion in 2007, a 36 percent increase from 2002.

The 2007 data was compiled shortly before the recession.

In Atlantic County in 2011, there is room for African-American-owned businesses to grow, said Curtis Lackland, owner of insurance provider Corporate Employee Benefits LLC in Atlantic City and founding member of the South Jersey African American Chamber of Commerce.

“I think the opportunity is going to be there due to the present administration we have, the opening of Revel, and the fact that a lot of land is being cleared for development,” he said. “It should spawn off a lot of service industries. Hopefully, African Americans can capitalize on that.”

In southern New Jersey, the Survey of Business Owners included 2007 data that showed:

- Cape May County had 145 black-owned businesses earning $58.3 million.

- Cumberland County had 821 such businesses earning 65.3 million.

- Ocean County had 988 businesses earning $74.7 million.

Marc Morial, president of National Urban League, noted the nationwide growth in the number of African-American businesses, which grew 60 percent to 1.9 million, was almost triple the national average for growth. But those businesses are still smaller on average than non-minority owned businesses, he said.

“The fact that there’s an increase in business owners and increasing interest in entrepreneurship means by focusing attention on helping black-owned businesses to grow, you can develop jobs and economic development in those communities,” Morial said in a conference call on Tuesday about the data.

Entrepreneurship is something that three siblings from Cumberland County know.

In August 2010, Michelle Ellis, 39, opened Apron Strings Dessert Boutique in Millville with sisters Tiffany Johnson, 34, and Jenne Cooper, 20.

Ellis and Johnson both worked for the same insurance company, and both lost their jobs last year.

Ellis, who has a degree in accounting, worked there for 13 years, she said. In the meantime, she had been making cakes for family and friends.

“Everybody liked our cakes, everybody told us you should do this professionally,” she said.

With families, homes and mortgages, the family thought hard about the decision to start a business.

“It’s definitely a lot of work, a lot of long hours, but I feel I have a little more control of my destiny than working for a company,” Ellis said.

Business has been good the first seven months in operation, she said.

“That was definitely the push we needed,” said Ellis, whose Apron Strings bakery on Oak Street makes pastries, wedding cakes, custom cakes and cupcakes. “We prayed about it and thank God everything lined up perfectly.”

Contact Brian Ianieri:


African-American-owned businesses

County                 Atlantic     Cape May     Cumberland      Ocean

Firms                      1,464           145                 821                988

Receipts (millions)  $108.8        $58.3              $65.3              $74.7

Source: U.S. Census Bureau Survey of Business Owners 2007


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