Minority-owned firms seek state contracts

Moderated by Rick Badie

The issue of minority participation, or a noticeable lack of it, in state contracts came to light during legislative discussion of the $1 billion spending measure to fund transportation fixes. The Georgia Chamber president and CEO pledged to work with lawmakers to boost such participation in state contracting. Today, he writes an essay that outlines ways the issue is already being addressed. Other guest writers weigh in on the topic, too.

Offering equal opportunity for state contracts

By Chris Clark

Georgia has been lauded as a top state for business as a result of a strong and lasting partnership between the public and private sectors that has created an environment in which companies can succeed. Doing so requires an important balance between free enterprise and regulation. The Georgia Chamber has worked to help maintain that balance in order to ensure our state is a place where companies of all size, background and industry have an equal opportunity to grow and create jobs.

Our state should also be a place where all companies have an equal opportunity to compete for state contracts, which was an issue raised during the recent legislative debate over transportation funding.

For those unfamiliar with the Department of Transportation’s contracting process, it requires the lowest bid from a qualified contractor or contracting team be accepted. This ensures sound stewardship of taxpayer dollars as well as quality work. Opportunities are advertised to qualified businesses, and the Department has active Equal Access Committee and Disadvantaged Business Enterprise programs focused on including more qualified minority- and women-owned companies.

In addition, GDOT conducts regular disparity studies to learn how these programs can be improved – a commitment they re-emphasized to members of the General Assembly during this year’s transportation funding debate.

The challenge for GDOT as well as other state agencies and private entities seeking new vendors often lies in the number of available, qualified companies. As we look to how we can ensure an even playing field that offers opportunity for all, helping new or disadvantaged companies understand processes, gain qualifications and secure the funding they need are all ways our state can make a positive impact.

Fortunately, there are strong programs in place that target each of these goals.

For example, the Georgia Minority Supplier Development Council has worked with minority businesses for 40 years to help them receive the certifications they need and connect with potential opportunities. The Council is supported by some of Georgia’s largest companies and works closely with the state Department of Economic Development in their efforts to support new and growing businesses. A great example of the Council’s partnership with the state is the Georgia Mentor Protégé Connection, which connects small businesses with corporations from which they can learn best practices, build relationships and gain a broader understanding of their industry.

Another key partner in that program is Georgia Tech. The institution expanded its role in support of new minority businesses more than 10 years ago with the opening of the Minority Business Development Agency Business Center. It focuses on helping companies secure the capital and grow the market share needed to create new jobs.

These are just a few examples of efforts underway to ensure that companies doing business in our state are reflective of the citizens that call Georgia home. While some may argue there is room for improvement with regard to the percentage of contracts offered to disadvantaged businesses, it is clear it is an issue many are actively working to address in a way that will ultimately make both our state and economy stronger.

Chris Clark is president and CEO of the Georgia Chamber.

Grant them a fair chance to participate

By Vincent Fort

The Georgia Department of Transportation has a sorry history of exclusion when it comes to minority businesses. This became readily apparent in 2012, when GDOT itself commissioned a Transportation Disparity Study to examine its efforts in utilizing Disadvantaged Business Enterprises (DBEs), which included African-American and woman-owned DBEs.

The study showed that African-American businesses received just 2.4 percent of federally funded GDOT projects. Moreover, African-American businesses received an abysmal 1.1 percent of state-funded projects. At that time I said, “The study indicates that, if all things were equal, African-American businesses would receive 22 percent of GDOT’s contracts.”

Women-owned disadvantaged businesses did 8.7 percent of federally-funded GDOT projects and 3.7 percent of state-funded projects. Simply put: GDOT does not have a state DBE program.

For this reason, civil rights organizations such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People opposed the T-SPLOST. Why? Because there was no substantive commitment to inclusion of disadvantaged businesses.

At the time the disparity study was issued, the Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (T-SPLOST) campaign was going on. The T-SPLOST referenda were held in 12 regions throughout the state. The one-cent T-SPLOST would have raised $18 billion in revenue over 10 ears for transportation projects. The metro Atlanta T-SPLOST referendum failed along with eight of the other 11 referenda.

With the failure of the regional T-SPLOSTs, the need remained for money to repair and build the state’s roads, bridges and transit. But the commitment to inclusion in GDOT’s contracting was still lacking.

In 2014, a Joint Transportation Study Committee was created by the General Assembly to look at transportation funding options. That committee recommended raising as much as $1.5 billion per year.

This year, House Bill 170 was introduced in the General Assembly to put in place the revenues to fund the recommendation.

What HB-170 did not include was any consideration for ensuring African-Americans, women and other DBEs were treated fairly in the contracting process for the $1.5 billion of projects. The legislation passed the House of Representatives. The only thing done to promote minority contracting was a weak letter written by the House transportation committee chair that provided platitudes but no specific commitments.

Senate Democrats demanded the bill include language committing GDOT to the creation of a state DBE program along with policies that supported fair treatment of contractors in the awarding of contracts resulting from HB-170. The Republican leadership and its road-building allies refused to include such language.

When the bill came to the Senate floor, all 18 Democrats voted against the bill, which passed with only the bare minimum of votes necessary. Only after that show of unity did Republicans begin to earnestly negotiate with Senate Democrats. A compromise was reached.

While the DBE language was not included in the bill, there was a commitment by the DOT board that it would consider a resolution. Additionally, a fund to assist DBEs in obtaining bonding and funding of engineering scholarships for minority students were agreed upon.

HB-170, expected to raise $900 million of revenue in its final iteration, passed overwhelmingly in a bipartisan manner.

Last week, the GDOT board passed a resolution which called for the establishment of a “DBE program applicable to capital construction projects resulting from the additional state revenue generated by Transportation Act of 2015.”

The commitment on minority contracting reached during the 2015 legislative session was historic. Still, it is only one step in the movement toward ensuring sure all of those who desire to do business with the state of Georgia will have a fair chance to participate.

State Sen. Vincent Fort, a Democrat, represents District 39.

Grow black constructors

By Margaret Muhammad, Janice Mathis

For centuries, the trade of the minority community, specifically black men and the ability to earn an income, was through construction, carpentry, masonry, concrete and plumbing. Yet they were kept out of jobs unless they worked as a subcontractor.

Under Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson’s administration, change began. He put in place local law that required 30 percent participation on all airport contracts as well as major city projects. That law enabled several black small firms to grow and become major construction firms.

On April 16, the Georgia Department of Transportation voted to approve a formal resolution to increase efforts of GDOT to include Disadvantaged Business Enterprises (DBEs) in contracts funded by revenue from passage of House Bill 170. The DBE resolution pledges to apply the principles of a 2012 disparity study to state funding. The matter-of-fact disposition of the resolution does not accurately portray the maneuvering it took to get it before the GDOT.

Advocates for disadvantaged business enterprises realize the resolution does not carry the weight of legislation, but it is the best indication of a willingness to level the playing field in state contracting since former Gov. Zell Miller was in office. Twenty-three years ago, he signed an executive order that set up a registry of state contracts (Georgia Procurement Registry: http://ssl.doas.state.ga.us/PRSapp/ ), making it easier for firms, including DBEs, to find out what business the state was doing.

Participation of disadvantaged businesses is not merely aimed at enriching a few relatively well-off minority business people. Empowering these small businesses is a way to create jobs where they are needed the most.

The purpose the Georgia Black Constructors’ Association is to:

  • Provide a vehicle of support for black construction professionals.
  • Advocate for the utilization of black-owned and operated construction firms by all sectors, private and public.
  • Provide encouragement, education, and support for blacks interested in construction industry careers.

The Georgia Black Constructors Association has been working with many organizations to ensure inclusion of minority participation in Georgia’s construction industry. We fought for adoption of the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax. Yet we still lag behind on construction benefits through SPLOST.

Inclusion advocates are the first to admit a lot more is left to do, but take the pragmatic view that politics is the art of the possible. Tea Party reluctance to support any revenue enhancements gave Democrats a rare opportunity to influence the shape and tenor of House Bill 170. Future efforts will include recruiting more highly qualified, diverse firms and encouraging them to get certified, pre-qualified and bid. Goals must be set on state (as opposed to federal) funds. Relationships must be built with the major players in the highway construction industry to ensure the growth of black constructors.

Margaret Muhammad is president of the Georgia Black Constructors Association. Janice Mathis is vice president of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition.




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