A Meeting of Minds

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On Feb. 12, the Association of Minority Enterprises of New York (AMENY) Inc. held its 40th Annual Legislative Business Conference in Albany, N.Y. Black business owners, local elected and appointed officials, senior representatives of state and local agencies, and prime contractors gathered in a veritable meeting of minds on how Black-owned businesses can secure a fair share of the state’s and city’s procurement pie — an issue that refuses to go away in a state with one of the highest number of minority-owned businesses in the country. “By identifying more opportunities for small businesses and mandating higher participation goals on government contracts for minority- and women-owned business enterprises, we can help overhaul the city’s economy,” says State Assembly Member Rodneyse Bichotte of Brooklyn, N.Y., who spoke at the conference. One of a cadre of young Black elected officials not afraid to butt heads with the Democratic Party establishment; Bichotte chairs the subcommittee on oversight of MWBEs.

 

Carra Wallace, chief diversity officer at the N.Y.C. Comptroller’s Office and a 2016 TNJ 25 Influential Black Women In Business honoree, also spoke in Albany. “The city isn’t broke. The state isn’t broke. There’s money out there. It’s the perfect storm. When you have a governor, a mayor, a city and state comptroller who all have set aggressive goals for minorities and women to access a piece of the pie, there’s so much opportunity. We need more Black businesses to come to the table,” she told me prior to the conference. 

 

AMENY’s conference took place as New York State pursues its inquiry into whether a disparity exists between the number of qualified minority- and women-owned business enterprises ready, willing, and able to perform state contracts, and the number of such firms actually awarded contracts. Billed as the New York State 2016 MWBE Disparity Study, the inquiry covers state contracting activities between April, 1, 2010, and March 31, 2015. Its results will determine what changes, if any, should be made to the MWBE program. Some already are calling for change. Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants 30 percent of state contracts, the highest of any state, to be awarded to MWBEs. He also wants to include in MWBE goals all state funding given to cities, counties, towns, villages and school districts (totaling about $65 billion annually). In New York City, where just 5.3 percent of public contracts went to MWBEs in fiscal year 2015, Mayor Bill de Blasio has promised that $16 billion will flow to MWBEs in the coming decade. Many contend that the city and state MWBE programs have been under assault for the last 10 years by individuals who do not want to see them succeed. And there’s the nettlesome issue of separate MWBE certifications for the city, state and each of their respective agencies. “It’s fine to have each entity do a certification, but once that certification is done, it should be accepted everywhere because it is the same certification,” says AMENY panelist Benjamin Jones, president of Lightning Supply Inc., a Teaneck, New Jersey, construction equipment wholesaler. “The requirements are all the same. But the city has one, the Port Authority has one, the MTA has one, and you have to have their certification to be able to participate in their projects. That’s onerous. And every year you have to keep going back to recertify.” It would save the agencies money, too, if an MWBE certification by a bona fide entity sufficed for everyone, Jones notes.

 

Perhaps, in the discourse on MWBE procurement, honesty, integrity and common sense will go against the grain of national politics and prevail.

 

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