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Alliance of minorities hopes to make economic connection

March 20, 1997

NEW YORK (AP) _ A coalition of black, Hispanic and Asian business people once seemed an unlikely prospect in this city, where ethnic minorities often have sparred over the years.

So there wasn’t much optimism when organizations representing the three groups started meeting last spring to consider a broad range of economic partnerships.

``Without a doubt, there was a certain edge when we first sat down in a room because we didn’t know what the other side was thinking,″ said Kirk Ortega, an official with the National Puerto Rican Business Council.

But envoys of the council, along with the Asian American Business Development Center and an organization known as One Hundred Black Men Inc., soon realized they had a lot to offer each other.

Moreover, they collectively represent more than half of New York’s population, reflecting a national trend that could make Americans of African, Asian, Latin and Caribbean descent the majority of the U.S. population in the next millennium. Hence the coalition’s name: New Majority Economic Alliance.

``We’re not minorities anymore,″ said Coy M. LaSister, a vice president of the black men’s group. ``We’re the majorities in the urban centers.″

Members overcame their mutual skepticism partly by touring each other’s business neighborhoods _ Queens for the Asians; Harlem, Wall Street and the South Bronx for the black businesses; and the Bronx for the Hispanics.

This Friday the alliance is hosting a daylong conference on ways that minorities nationwide can collaborate on business ventures, both in the United States and abroad.

The conference has garnered $300,000 from corporate sponsors, including Chase Manhattan Bank, the nation’s biggest banking company, and Philip Morris Cos. Inc., the biggest consumer-products company.

The conference is scheduled to hear from, among others, the administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration, the president of Hyundai Motor America, former Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson and representatives of several banks.

Even the Chinese consulate in New York recognizes the potential of this group, partly because of its familial and business ties to Asia. Last Friday, Chinese consul Qiu Shengyun hosted a reception for coalition members.

``You have become very important groups,″ Qiu told the guests, noting statistics that show the combined buying power of African, Asian and Hispanic Americans totals $780 billion.

Qiu also held out the prospect of business partnerships between coalition members and China, which in coming years will overtake the United States as the world’s biggest economy.

In offering his country of 1.2 billion people as the best of all emerging markets, Qiu also promised to ``facilitate your visa process ... You can rest assured this consulate will help bridge China with the United States.″

A regional representative of the Commerce Department attending the reception, Heyward B. Davenport, said it’s planning an Asian trade mission this year and that participation by alliance members would make sense.

John Wang, president of the Asian center, is considered largely responsible for uniting the three groups. He said it is looking at broadening to other cities where blacks, Asians and Hispanics collectively represent new majorities _ Los Angeles, Atlanta, Houston, Miami and Chicago, for example.

``By coming together, our three communities will have a greater say in the larger economy,″ Wang said. ``We should develop this into a national model.″

Wang said he’s also addressed three congressional caucuses _ Black, Hispanic and Asian _ and its members seemed ``very positive and supportive.″

But Wang said he was particularly impressed with China’s largely unpublicized efforts to expedite ties with a broader range of American businesses. Most of the corporate dealings with China have been by prominent companies _ Boeing, General Electric, Microsoft _ sealing multibillion dollar, long-term contracts.

``Small businesses have a hard time playing on this international stage,″ Wang said. ``But once you start talking about organizing trade missions to Asia-Pacific Rim, it would be easier if you have the consulate to help clear through the bureaucracy.″