Durham County is short of its goal to award 25 percent of its contracts to minority- and women-owned businesses but appears to be on track to do so by the end of the fiscal year.
Farad Ali, president of The Institute of Minority Economic Development (and a candidate for mayor of Durham
), gave a report detailing the the progress of the county’s Minority and Women’s Business Enterprise program during the Durham County Board of Commissioners work session on Monday. The program is designed to empower minority-owned businesses to compete for government contracts, addressing historical inequalities in the types of businesses selected.
Ali said that during the first three quarters of last year, the county spent 21.86 percent of its total contracting with minority businesses, but he is confident the county will reach its “aspirational goal” of 25 percent by the end of the fiscal year, which ends on June 30. The contracts amounted to about $9 million, out of the $41 million spent on construction, goods, and services.
The county adopted its current Minority and Women Business Enterprise Ordinance in November 2016, after a study of city and county contracts
showed Durham County awarded 6 percent of contracts to minority- and female-owned firms from July 2007 to June 2012.
Much of the program’s current efforts have been focused on making sure the targeted businesses understand the process and requirements for doing business with the county.
Commissioner James Hill said the biggest obstacle many businesses face is filling out the paperwork, not doing the actual job.
"They had the skills but really what they needed were those basic 'how do I do the paperwork?' type of skill set and that skill set really needs to be reinforced,” Hill said.
Ali said he would like to see the focus shifted away from construction as the main driver for minority participation and encourage the county to seek goods and services from local minority businesses.
"What we've been able to do over the past year is to focus on not just doing outreach externally to tell people why and how they can come into the county and preparing them but also telling people inside the county that you have to change the culture of how you buy," Ali said.
As part of the assessment, local minority- or women-owned companies were surveyed to determine what barriers they may face in trying to win city or county contracts.
Commissioner Ellen Reckhow pointed out that half of the survey’s respondents indicated they didn’t know where they could get information about government contracts or had never had a government contract.
"So there is just a lot of work to do here in terms of updating our data, getting the word out, and then looking perhaps at really innovative strategies to get people engaged." Reckhow said.
Board chairwoman Wendy Jacobs noted that only 26 percent of people contacted for the survey provided a response, adding that the responses the county did receive indicated that many of these businesses are just too small to be able to compete for county contracts.
"There is clearly a capacity issue, that a lot of these companies are small,” she said. “They don’t have the resources and the wherewithal to often bid on these contracts, they don't know how to fill out the paperwork, the may not have the right insurance. So I think part of the question is how do we support, capacity-wise, some of these smaller companies."
Check out the report here: