Three Black women talk with each other in a conference room.

The U.S. middle market is a historically overlooked, yet incredibly powerful segment of the economy. While the National Center for the Middle Market (NCMM) has made great strides over the past decade in shedding light on the middle market’s importance and outsized contributions, segments of the middle market remain far less understood. 

A new report, released today by the NCMM in collaboration with Wells Fargo Commercial Bank, offers insights into one such segment ― Black-owned middle market businesses. The report, “2024 Insights and Perspectives from Black Leaders in the Middle Market,” suggests that these businesses utilize distinct strategies for growth, but face challenges as Minority Business Enterprises (MBEs).

”We are excited by the opportunity to work with the Wells Fargo Diverse Segments team to focus on Black-owned businesses in the middle market,” said Doug Farren, managing director of the NCMM. “The small business story is well-known and has been told, but building a business to scale comes with its own set of challenges ― and we wanted to explore that.” 

Researchers conducted interviews with 13 Black middle market business owners and leaders responsible for strategic decision-making in organizations spanning different industries including construction, logistics, financial services and information technology. The leaders represented companies with annual revenues ranging from $20 million to $500 million. 

Key findings of the report include:

  • A shared sentiment among many of those interviewed that diversity initiatives and programs are shifting away from Black-owned businesses.
  • Most participants believed that an MBE designation means less today than it once did; or that the opportunities such certifications have become watered down or less available to Black-owned companies. 
  • A view that programs that contribute to the initial success of Black-owned businesses often end up limiting future growth.
  • Many of the Black business leaders interviewed expressed frustration at what they view as broken government contracting and certification processes, with some even contending that the programs put in place to help Black entrepreneurs are ultimately hurting them instead. 

Access the report

“One interesting point that came out of this report ― and what I have been researching ― are the organizational barriers that minority businesses, particularly Black-owned businesses, face,” said James Hill, chair of the Department of Operations and Business Analytics at The Ohio State University Max M. Fisher College of Business. “Black-owned businesses often must go through supplier diversity programs and certifications, where their majority-owned counterparts can go straight to procurement. These additional steps are structural barriers they must overcome.”

The survey also revealed shared experiences and strategies that participants said have helped Black businesses succeed. Among them:

  • Discrimination is a universal experience not likely to go away anytime soon, but it does not define Black business owners or their paths forward.  
  • Establishing and maintaining a network of peers and an economy in which Black business leaders are valued can help generate opportunity and overcome challenges. 

"This is the beginning of a journey. A journey to uncover the overlooked ― owners of Black middle market companies," said Moses Harris, Black/African American Segment leader for Wells Fargo Commercial Banking. "We're doing this to elevate their stories, to expand their access to capital and customers, and to support their overdue, equitable participation in the global economy. Stories, coupled with data, have the power to change systems, unlock product innovation, and design better policy benefitting generations to come."

James Hill Chair, Department of Operations and Business Analytics, Professor of Operations Management
Faculty Profile for James Hill