Harry C. Alford has one major criticism of Mississippians — they need to speak up. He is convinced that if the truth about the Magnolia State got out, it would bring an influx of new business and industry.
“Mississippi is building, not burning,” he said. “I rank Mississippi ahead of Louisiana and Alabama, maybe Tennessee, as far as opportunities and positive environment for economic development. Mississippi is just too quiet.”
Alford made that statement during a recent visit to the Capital City where he spoke to the Rotary Club and the Mississippi Economic Forum September 24-25. He was accompanied by his wife, Kay DeBow Alford, executive vice president and co-founder, along with her husband, of the National Black Chamber of Commerce (NBCC). (He serves as president and CEO.) Both are frequent visitors to Mississippi, and both are fans of the state.
“Mississippi just needs to focus its efforts. My experience has been that those in charge of economic development in Mississippi will always sit down and give you the time of day, work with you.”
From grassroots to nationwide
While living in Detroit, Harry met Kay. A native of Indianapolis and University of Indiana graduate, her father was a Tuskegee Airman, and both her parents played pivotal roles in integrating the schools of Indianapolis.
Harry’s career meant a lot of moving around, but the couple eventually returned to Indianapolis so Kay could care for her parents. They would go on to become successful entrepreneurs as video store owners. And, it was here that the NBCC was born.
Harry began making a name for himself in the public sector. He became the minority business development “point person” in Indiana Gov. Evan Bayh’s administration. In less than two years, minority business participation at the state level increased by more than 500%.
Harry and Kay subsequently established the Hoosier Minority Chamber of Commerce, but soon realized that this type organization was not just needed in Indiana, but nationwide, too. While the Alfords had proven successful in their previous endeavors, establishing a national organization to represent black-owned businesses had a track record of failure.
“It had been tried before,” Harry said. “I think the key to the success of the NBCC was timing and technology.” Kay said, “We were fearless and confident. We knew we could do it.”
That courage was rewarded. In March 1993, the NBCC was incorporated in Washington, D.C. It was established as a non-profit, non-partisan, non-sectarian organization dedicated to the economic empowerment of African American communities, one that stressed entrepreneurship over entitlement.
Today, the NBCC represents some 95,000 black-owned businesses and provides advocacy that reaches one million black-owned businesses. It is comprised of 190 affiliated chapters locally based throughout the U.S., international affiliate chapters based in the Bahamas, Brazil, Columbia, Ghana and Jamaica as well as direct members of the national office .
“Basically, the mission is to promote the virtues of capitalism and entrepreneurship and its value to quality of life and economic and community development,” Harry said. “The journey of African Americans has been unique. Our focus is on entrepreneurship, not entitlement, following the example of people like George Washington Carver.”
Interestingly, Harry’s address to the Rotary Club and Mississippi Economic Forum was not on minority entrepreneurship issues, nor was he there to tout the NBCC. Instead, Harry spoke on an issue that has become a passion — energy.
“This country’s real threat from a national security point of view is energy dependency,” Harry said. “There has got to be an energy policy for the nation. Here we are trying to be the number one nation in the world, and we don’t have a comprehensive energy policy. We are playing catch up to the rest of the world.
“In 2002, I spoke before Congress about the need for an energy policy. In 2004, I was back, because nothing had been done.”
Harry pointed to lack of supply and China as the main challenges in the area of energy. And, to him they are interrelated as China continues to pump oil from the Gulf of Mexico while environmentalists and others are blocking the U.S. from doing the same.
“We need supply, and we need explorers to find that supply,” he said. “We need oil rigs that are friendly to the environment, and we need to develop alternative fuels such as biodiesel. We need self-sufficiency, and we need a plan. Right now, we’re going helter skelter.”
The Alfords will continue to push their energy agenda, while also further developing the NBCC.
Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at email@example.com.