Bolstering MWBEs: New York City’s public-private partnerships

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New York City’s Department of Small Business Services and Columbia University’s facilities unit this year launched a mentorship program to help minority and women-owned business entrepreneurs (MWBEs) build their capacities and access contracting opportunities at the university. The one-year pilot program will provide 22 selected city-certified minority and women-owned construction enterprises with classroom instruction in the fundamentals of construction management at Columbia’s Morningside Heights campus in West Harlem. It also will provide exclusive opportunities to bid for designated contracts with the university, as well as guidance in bidding on projects and in meeting the requirements of awarded contracts.

In another effort to bolster local minority and women-owned enterprises, SBS and the New York City Council are collaborating with One Hundred Black Men Inc. in New York to present a series of workshops on how to tap into the city’s $120 billion construction market. Under the theme “A Blueprint to Grow Your Business for Public Construction Work,” the program unveils the scope of contracting opportunities available from such city and state agencies as the New York City School Construction Authority, the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey and the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York. Four workshops scheduled for March are listed in TNJ’s “Calendar of Events,” on page 66.

The two programs are modeled after the School Construction Authority’s Mentor Program, hailed as one of the country’s most successful small-business construction training and economic development programs. Michael J. Garner, senior director of the SCA’s Business Development Division and chair of the economic development committee of One Hundred Black Men Inc. in New York, is providing technical assistance for the Blueprint to Grow Your Business program.

The mentorship program with Columbia University is the city’s first partnership with a private university aimed at assisting MWBEs. The classroom training involves a series of free courses that SBS began offering to certified MWBEs at New York City College of Technology in February 2007. Courses cover such topics as construction law; blueprint reading and construction cost estimating; project planning, scheduling and control; risk management and project closeout. Businesses also can receive free guidance in creating bids and estimating costs through Breaking New Ground, another SBS program to help certified companies through the bidding and initial contracting process.

The program with Columbia comes amid concern that the university’s plans to develop an additional 17 acres of land in West Harlem, near its 36-acre campus in Harlem, will eliminate or displace some 60,000 Black and Latino residents, small businesses and manufacturing jobs, and that the zoning change granted to Columbia for the expansion will ruin the character of the neighborhood. Some further contend that the university is working with New York State authorities to condemn private property that it cannot acquire on the market. Even so, the expansion plan has won the support of political luminaries, including former N.Y.C. Mayor David Dinkins. In response to community concerns, the university is hashing out a community benefits agreement with West Harlem Development Corp., an advocacy group. So far, the two sides have agreed on an outline that commits Columbia to spending $150 million on community projects over the next 12 years.

Although the university has a 25 percent minority, women-owned and locally based businesses goal on all construction contracts, from 2002 to 2005 it placed more than $112 million worth of major construction contracts, or about 36 percent, in the hands of such firms, school officials say. They add that in 2006 the university contracted for more than $65 million in small construction projects and repair and maintenance services with such firms, more than one-third of the total spending for these purposes.