Saturday, June 22, 2002
The Next Entrepeneurial Class?

As part of my recent travels -- a road trip to Tennessee and Alabama immediately followed my trip to Chicago -- I found my self in a convenience store / gas station / Subway somewhere at an interchange on I-75 in south Georgia.

The local customers were, as one might expect from the demographics of the area, predominantly black. For the short time I was there, the primary transaction seemed to involve scratch lottery tickets (note to self: come back to the lottery issues someday). Travellers and locals were buying gas and Cokes, too. I was having lunch in the Subway part of the store.

What stood out was who was running the business. It wasn't some old white guys who had owned the place forever. It wasn't Koreans or Arabs as one sometimes sees running such establishments, at least in more densely populated area. It was Mexicans.

I didn't do an interview, so I know I'm drawing some conclusions that are suspect, but my impression was that the guy behind the checkout was the owner of the store, and that the kid making sandwiches was his son. Outside of labor contracting and Mexican restaurants, this was the first example I had seen of entrepeneurship by this largest class of new -- or soon-to-be-new -- Americans. Of course that this was my first instance of such doesn't mean it's totally new. And, for all I know, these could've been just as native-born Americans as myself; they may have moved there from LA, for all I know. But work with me on this. Okay?

It would be hard for me to find any kind of argument that this is not a good thing. The only lingering concern I have is the longstanding national failure to inculcate a similar spirit of can-do and entrepeneurship into certain cohorts of non-immigrant Americans. For example, it's highly likely that some of the locals of that store had just as much or more capital at the time the store was last sold as these (likely) immigrants did. And there are, likely, US Gov't programs that would even assist those same locals in finding and financing such capital.

To me, this is almost certainly a socio-cultural issue. It's been, what?, going on forty years since the Monihan report, but we, as a nation, still haven't really closed the deal on moving towards a more uniform distribution according to race and to locale of entrepeneurial spirit. (I'm not in any way suggesting that the distribution should be uniform on an individual level: that would defeat the point of entrepeneurship.) There has been progress, especially in nurturing a black middle class (even in rurul areas), but there are still plenty of opportunities for improvement in these regards.