Andre Carson: Small businesses have driven culture, economy

It’s no surprise that Indianapolis has grown and evolved tremendously in the last 40 years. I’m grateful that, in that time, IBJ has been here to keep Hoosiers up to date on the latest happenings in the Circle City.

As the member of Congress for most of Indianapolis, I see our city as many things: the Crossroads of America, where our nation’s vast transportation networks converge; a hub of talent that has shaped a variety of household names, including Babyface, David Letterman, Jane Pauley, Mike Epps, John Green, Kurt Vonnegut Jr., Vivica A. Fox and many others; an important landmark in the history of the long march toward civil rights; and much more.

Indianapolis is many things to many people, and it’s my job to understand every facet of our community, so I can help make it stronger. Time and again, I have found it is the small businesses that drive not only our region’s economy but also its culture and its spectacular quality of life. Perhaps most important, they provide an avenue for every Hoosier to find purpose and success, regardless of his or her background.

This entrepreneurial spirit stretches back to much earlier times. For example, it was Madam C.J. Walker, the daughter of slaves, who built a hair care empire right here in Indianapolis. She became one of America’s wealthiest self-made women of any race at a time segregation was the law of the land.

On Indiana Avenue, where the Madam C.J. Walker Legacy Center sits today, a Black business and cultural district emerged even before Madam Walker made her mark. The first Black-owned business in the city—a grocery store—was established there in 1865. And the first African-American-owned newspaper, The Indianapolis Leader, founded in 1879, also set up shop there. Through the years, Indiana Avenue also became a hub for jazz clubs, where some of the greatest performers in history performed—Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald and Cab Calloway, to name a few.

For much of the period in American history when African Americans were moving north for opportunity and safety—known as the Great Migration—Indianapolis was a prime destination where many found success. That’s something we can all be proud of.

My grandmother, U.S. Rep. Julia Carson, was one of them. She moved to Indianapolis from Kentucky and became engaged in our city’s economic, cultural and political fabric. In fact, she was a small-business owner herself, operating a fashionable boutique called J. Carson’s.

Today, that entrepreneurial spirit is even stronger, with our city’s economy offering many opportunities for minority business owners.

Here in our corner of the Midwest, you can taste flavors from all over the world at the many immigrant-owned restaurants and grocery stores that enrich our city’s cultural offerings. I’m particularly fond of the amazing array of businesses in the International Marketplace area, along Lafayette Road and West 38th Street, where a multitude of delicious cuisines can all be found in one neighborhood, offered up by Hoosiers who have moved here from many countries.

In our city, entrepreneurs dream big and have found success by venturing into industries that have long needed to be diversified: Nubian Construction Co., a firm founded by two women of color, comes to mind. Alpha Blackburn, the president and CEO of Blackburn Architects, deserves a shout-out, too, as well as businesses like Mays Chemical Co. and Tyscot Records. There are many other small-business owners we should honor and recognize for the barriers they have broken.

Over the past 40 years and beyond, these small businesses and others have shaped and improved our city. They have helped put Indianapolis on the global map and bolstered our reputation as a place of opportunity, innovation and acceptance. They represent the very best our country has to offer.

As another trend of the last four decades—technological innovation—continues its steady march, we must make sure our small businesses are not left behind. This is particularly true for those that have been providing opportunities for minority and underrepresented people in our city. This requires strengthening our education system, improving access to capital for the unbanked and under-banked, continuing to challenge systemic discrimination, and much more.

I plan to remain at the forefront of those efforts, so that our city will continue to grow and prosper, offering pathways to success for new generations of Hoosier entrepreneurs. And I know IBJ will continue to dutifully report on all these developments and many others.

Congratulations on 40 years, and here’s to many more!•

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Carson is the representative in Congress for Indiana’s 7th District.

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