Columbus City Council announced its implementation plan to address ethnic and gender inequalities in city contracting at a public hearing on Tuesday.
The plan was made in response to a. developed 2019 study by Mason Tillman Associates, based in Oakland, California. The results found that there were statistically significant differences between minority owned companies and women in main and subcontracting in construction and professional services.
In July, the city council will vote on recommendations for its Diversity Enhancement Program, which promises to remove inequalities in city procurement processes and encourage the growth of minority-owned and women-owned small businesses in central Ohio . It should come into force on January 1st, 2022.
“We’ll be doing this very soon,” said Council President Shannon Hardin, joined by Damita Brown, chief diversity officer for the city’s Diversity and Inclusion Office. “We’ll pass this.”
The program sets spending targets for all industries. For professional services, the city is targeting 25% for eligible minority companies (MBEs) and 19% for female companies (WBEs). For construction, the target is 19% for all certified MWBEs (excluding Hispanic men who were overburdened according to the study) and 11% for WBEs.
For professional services, the city suggests incentive credits of 5 to 10% for MWBEs who are being screened for potential contracts. The city also recommends using promotional discounts (5% up to $ 50,000) on construction and goods and service contracts.
“This gives our small businesses the opportunity to play a leading role,” said Rita McNeil Danish, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Partner at Taft Stettinius & Hollister, who was a panelist at the council meeting.
The race and gender neutral recommendations include the establishment of a Small, Local Business Enterprise (SLBE) Sheltered Market program, which would enable similarly situated companies to compete with one another for urban contracting dollars.
The city also recommends unbundling large, multi-year projects and waiving bond requirements for contracts under $ 100,000.
Both Hardin and Mason Tillman CEO Eleanor Mason Ramsey said they were confident the recommendations could withstand any challenges faced by the legal system that scrutinized racially conscious public procurement programs.
Jacqueline Neal, CEO of the Ohio Minority Supplier Development Council, made a statement on the business case for supplier diversity.
More than a quarter of the nation’s network of certified minority companies is based in Columbus and central Ohio, Neal said. They have total sales of $ 3 billion and employ 7,000 people. Certified MBEs across Ohio represent nearly $ 12 billion and 52,000 jobs, adding up to a $ 1.2 billion contribution to Ohio’s tax base.
“Continued commitment to eliminating inequalities and barriers to success – combined with concerted investment in developing minority businesses – is producing tremendous results,” said Neal. “Supplier diversity is not a separate and independent business unit within an organization. It needs to permeate the entire culture in which everyone understands the value of including and developing MBEs, rather than as an afterthought. “
Nancy Tidwell, owner of consulting firm NRT & Associates, praised the new program but said the responsibility is not the city alone.
“Both public and private industries and other community leaders and organizations need to get involved and figure out how we can build capacity for these large numbers of minority and women-owned companies struggling to succeed,” said Tidwell, who has 20 years of experience advising on diversity and inclusion goals for city projects.
She emphasized the importance of world-class companies serving small businesses owned by minorities and women, as well as efforts to improve access to capital, training and technical assistance.
The industry has the most recent success stories of inclusive private-public projects, including the recent construction of the new Columbus Crew Stadium and training facility. (Tidwell has also consulted on the project.) A total of 117 contracts were awarded to minority and women contractors, valued at over $ 74 million.
As part of the Diversity Enhancement Program, the city also pledges to expand its business-outreach programs and put in place a payment, tracking and monitoring system to ensure compliance. In the meantime, supplier diversity reports and workforce diversity information are available at columbus.gov/diversity.
Once the city council has approved the program, the city will produce a MWBE program manual and provide staff training.
“We look forward to further involvement in the community,” said Hardin and encouraged townspeople to contact his office with questions. “This is the time for us to hear your feedback.”