Asian-American firms are making it big in the Big Apple, accounting for 10 of the Top 25 minority-owned companies in the New York area, according to a new Crain’s list.
There were nine Hispanic and Latino-owned companies and six African-American firms on the Crain’s list, which ranked the region’s 25 largest minority businesses by their 2010 revenues. The No .1 company was Goya Foods Inc., of Secaucus, N.J., with an estimated 1.7 billion in revenues last year.
The top Asian-American firm on the list was information technology company ASI System Integration, which reported $175 million in revenues for 2010, placing No. 5 overall.
Six of the 10 Asian-American-owned companies on the list operate in either apparel or construction and construction supplies, industries that have struggled during the recent recession. Indeed, seven of the 10 Asian-American firms on the list lost revenue from the year earlier.
By Design, a Manhattan-based apparel wholesale company, was founded in 1994 by Korean-American Chief Executive Jay Lee. Though still successful enough to make No. 10 on the list, the company’s revenue last year dropped to $77.1 million from $87.1 million in 2009. By Design’s director of human resources, Richard Eagan, said the continuing lull in the economy, paired with some retailers’ desire to save money by sourcing their own apparel overseas, made things tough last year.
The company is banking on innovation to help blunt the impact of falling revenue, acquiring a partner last summer in Los Angeles-based jeans-maker-to-the-stars David Kahn. Their high-end denims should appear in New York boutiques soon, Mr. Eagan said, noting that the move is “totally new” for a company that sells mainly knits and sweaters for young women.
One apparel wholesaler appears to have emerged unscathed: Lafayette 148 New York. The women’s apparel company ranked No. 8 on this year’s list with $100 million in revenues in 2010, up from $95 million in 2009.
Chief Executive Shun Yen Sui said Lafayette 148’s success in rough times resulted from a refusal to compromise the brand and the product. Favorable manufacturing locations also helped: “Certainly,” Mr. Sui said, “our vertical operations, with our own production facility in Shantou, China, give us a competitive advantage.”
Despite individual success stories, John Wang, president of the Manhattan-based Asian American Business Development Center, said apparel manufacturing has been falling for years. “Much of the manufacturing has moved to Asia, Vietnam,” he said. “And Americans are not spending as freely as before.”
Construction services also continued to slow in 2010: Though all three of the Asian-American construction and construction supplies firms on the Crain’s list moved up in the rankings, their total revenue dropped anywhere from 7% to 22%. (Overall construction spending in New York City plunged 12% in 2010 alone, and it’s off more than 20% from peaks seen in 2007 and 2008.)
Mr. Wang said whatever the sector, local Asian-American businesses will need to continue expanding into unfamiliar territory—even international markets—to stay competitive. He mentioned Latin America and Africa as potential markets for expansion, a trend growing for decades in Chinese business. But he also pointed to a growth market much closer to home.
Previously isolated minority groups are starting to put aside language and cultural barriers and are “developing each other” as potential customers, he said.
“On the smaller scale, people have been teaming up from the neighboring minority communities,” said Mr. Wang. But he said Asian American-owned companies “could be marketing much more heavily to Hispanic, African-American and gay and lesbian markets.”