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Creme de la creme


Every since 1969, when the United States Census Bureau first  began creating special reports that examined minority-owned businesses  across the nation, the Los Angeles metropolitan region has been one of  the top spots for African American firms.
While the Bear Flag state  has the fifth highest concentration of African American  residentstrailing in order of population New York, Georgia, Florida and  Texasthe state lays claim to having the second largest population of  African American-owned firms112,873. This trails New Yorks 129,324  black businesses. And when you look deeper, Los Angeles County has the  second largest concentration of African-American businesses (52,674)  following only Cook County in Illinois, which has 54,758 black   companies.
In recognition of Black Business Month, Our Weekly has  compiled a list of the top African American-owned business in Los  Angeles County-area based on readily available information. Using $5  million in sales, revenues, assets or billings (depending on the  company) as the cut-off point, we ranked the firms from highest to  lowest.
Companies were included in the list if they met the following  criteriainformation on their 2007 sales, revenue, billings or assets  was provided either by the firm principals or reported by credible  sources such as Dun and Bradstreet, Black Enterprise magazine or the Los  Angeles Business Journal; they were based in Los Angeles County; and  ownership was at least 51 percent African American.
What is evident  is that the top firms truly represent a cross section of industries. The  second oldest of the companies is a publicly traded firm with a member  from one of the founding families still at the helm, and the youngest  company is a mere nine years old.
The oldest firm opened its doors  in 1925 and was a pioneer in meeting the insurance needs of African  American consumers. Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Company began in a  one-room office on a street that was once the Black Belt of Los  Angeles. Within a year, the business had offices in Oakland and Los  Angeles, and two years later there were more than 100 employees  including 60 agents and branches in Pasadena, Bakersfield, San Diego and  Fresno.
Four of the firms on the list are also woman-owned or  headed including the number one company, Act One Group, which has sat  atop listings of the biggest African-American owned firms for years. In  2007, it was the third largest African American firm in the nation,  according to Black Enterprise magazine.
What makes Los Angeles County  such a good place for small firms to develop and grow is a mixture of  the numbers, environment and an never-say-die entrepreneurial spirit  that drives people in the region.
Its the sheer size of the  county, pointed out Jack Keyser, chief economist for the Los Angeles  County Economic Development Corporation. LACEDCs mission is to attract,  retain and grow businesses and jobs in the regions of Los Angeles  County, as well as to identify trends and affect positive change for the  local economy.
A lot of people dont understand how big it is.  There are 10.3 million residents (in Los Angeles County). We have a  larger population than about eight states, and that means a lot of  opportunity. There is always an entrepreneurial sprit in Los Angeles; a  lot of people think they can start things. And we have support programs  (to help them) from the Service Corp of Retired Executives (SCORE) to a  lot of banks that have minority lending programs. You wont find this  array of activity in smaller areas.
Los Angeles County is also a  very competitive market for banks, which makes the region an optimal  place for people with a viable idea, who are well prepared and have a  realistic picture of what they can do in a business, said Keyser.
Dean  Jones, chief executive officer of the Southland Partnership  Corporation, and a native of Los Angeles said there is a particularly  strong connectivity among the trade associations in Southern California  that are serving African American businesses.
What that means (for  African American businesses) is an emphasis on creation of places in  which companies can grow in retail and commercial, said Jones, whose  partnership is a business strategy and marketing organization. If the  trade groups, which I know they are doing, are attempting to get major  corporations to open more opportunities, companies can grow with greater  contract access. And likewise banks are more willing to make loans to  companies with growth potential.
The vibrancy of the Southern  California region even draws African-American organizations from other  parts of the state to hold their events in the area and encourages those  home-grown companies to stay put when planning functions, added Jones.
And  contrary to what many people think, Keyser said Los Angeles is not just  the land of movie making. This is a hill we are constantly climbing.  We dont know how to get it into peoples heads (that the industries are  very diverse.) In fact, four of the top 10 engineering firms in the  country are in Los Angeles County. We are still the manufacturing center  of the U.S., the international trade capital, the entertainment trade  capital; the capital of apparel and fashion, and we bring a  multicultural aspect to that, noted Keyser.
African American-owned  firms are a major part of this mix. Several of our top 14 firms have  staked their claim in the apparel industry and between them account for  more than $100 million in revenue.
And these are not like the black  businesses he grew up with, agrees Jones, who was raised near the  Central Avenue section in the 1950s, which was a hotbed of black  business activity. My parents started a retail cleaners in 1996, and  prior to that I was looking at the businesses in and around Central  Avenue and Avalon. We were very versed (in the 1950s and 1960s) in  retail. There were cobblers, hair care (places), small stores, small  boutiques, auto repair and even a black-owned filling (gas) station.  Then in the 1970s, there was such a large push after the civil unrest of  the 1960s for integration that everybody wanted to work for big  companies with good pension plans.
Jones said that trend lasted  through the 1970s and 1980s and into the 1990s, when he said black folks  woke up.
Even Jesse Jackson was saying, now we want to own the  bus company, Jones pointed out.
This has created a different caliber  of black business owners, said Jones. They are people who have retired  from or been laid off of Fortunate 1000 companies who have taken their  money, know-how and sophistication to create more professional and  technology-type companies. Contemporary African American entrepreneurs  in Los Angeles operate consulting, accounting, human resources, legal  and other types of similar firms.
Jones believes that they have left  much of the retail sector to immigrants including people of African  descent from the Caribbean and Africa. But while he acknowledges the  higher level of business development, Jones also believes that African  Americans also need to own the Super Cuts and the automotive chains.
The  business CEO is optimistic about the future of African American  business for several reasons:  I have seen a small trend of individuals  buying exiting businesses. I (also) recently had an opportunity to  review business plans at Washington High School, and I was pleased to  see the social entrepreneurial aspect of so many of the students. They  are looking into really helping people whether its wheelchair access  for third world countries or child safety surveillance.
This push  toward self employment will be a critical move for the future, believes  Jones because many corporations are so streamlined that the job  opportunities that flourished in the 1970s and 1980s just do not exist  today. And as the Small Business Administration notes each yearsmall  businesses employ the majority of people in America.
The top black  firms in Los Angeles are playing a major part in this fact as well. This  first list of the whos who among African American firms is the  highlight of what is happening in the Los Angeles black business  community and represents some of the brightest of the bright.

Company  NameRevenueLocationEmployeesYear founded
Act 1 Group$800  million*Torrance3501978
Broadway Federal Bank$300 million  (assets)Los Angeles (Public)661946
Golden State Mutual Life  Insurance$113 mill (assets)Los Angeles2781925
Muse Communications $75 million (billings)Los Angeles451985
Karl Kani International $72 million*Hollywood541989
Beauchamp Distributing Co.$63.5  million*Compton1601973
Ford of Montebello$49.453 million* Montebello861999
Marc Wear$40.656 million*Los Angeles511993
Americus  Credit Group$40.2 million*Los Angeles341994
Blackstone  Consulting Inc.$26.7 million*Los Angeles4801991
Computer  Consulting Operations$25 million*Culver City1001985
Concession  Management Services$25 million*Los Angeles3001996
Concourse  Concessions Inc.$10 million*Inglewood391992
La Grant Group$5.641  million*Los Angeles231990
(*Where it does not specifiy assets or  billings, the figures are revenue.)