AG Gaston Conference promotes wider Black business ownership

Published: Feb. 27, 2023 at 5:27 AM CST
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - If there was an action movie about a person whose superpower was running a successful business, what would you call it? More importantly, would you buy a ticket to see it?

Elevating Black business owners to hero status was one of Bob Dickerson’s goals for this year’s A.G. Gaston Conference at the BJCC. Nearly 700 people attended on February 21 and 22 to hear from those who are on the come-up or creating conditions to pull others up.

“One of the things that we’ve always wanted to do was to elevate entrepreneurs, especially Black entrepreneurs, to heroic status” says Dickerson, a former banker who founded the conference nearly 20 years ago, in part, to pay tribute to his hero who was also Alabama’s first Black millionaire. “And we know that A.G. Gaston, because he was so successful as an entrepreneur, became a hero. But, we need to celebrate our other business owners. Now, business ownership is hard. It’s tough. Sometimes it’s not rewarding, but we consumers, especially Black consumers, need to lift up, hold up, and promote Black entrepreneurship.”

The lineup Dickerson and his team assembled for the conference included:

  • Nicholas Perkins - CEO of Black Titan Enterprises which recently purchased the Fuddrucker’s hamburger chain and someone Dickerson says could be the next A.G.
  • Natalie Madeira Cofield - helped run the Office of Women’s Business Ownership at the U.S. Small Business Administration and a founder of the Walker’s Legacy, which seeks to grow the number of women-owned businesses
  • Mark Morial - National Urban League CEO

But as with Gaston, the heroism in growing businesses is in being able to lift your community along with you - something that gets easier with more growing businesses involved.

“The path to equity is through ownership. Equity equals ownership,” says Mike Green, Vice President of New Economies at Bitwise Industries, a Fresno, California firm Green calls the most diverse tech workforce of any company in the country.

Green delivered a “Green Paper” at the conference that stressed the importance of inclusive economic prosperity. He says the first thing people, especially those at the bottom of the economic ladder, can own is an appreciable, marketable skill, preferably in a tech-based innovation economy. But creating conditions that allow people to acquire those skills and get the wrap-around support services they might need involves collaboration between a community’s business, policy, community, and philanthropy leaders.

Green says those leaders put together a Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS) document developed by the U.S. Economic Development Administration that local leaders can revise every five years.

He says it is important for everyone in our community to get familiar with the CEDS framework.

“Read your CEDS plan, see what people are planning to do with your economic infrastructure,” Green said. “Decide whether or not you see yourself in that plan, whether you are centered and prioritized. What are the measurable outcomes that impact you and your business? If you do not see yourself in that plan, if you do not see measurable outcomes, then go to those meetings and be part of the solution to redesigning that plan so that the most underestimated people here in Birmingham are centered and prioritized with the outcomes that can benefit everyone.”

The CEDS plan for Birmingham can be found at

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