City halls around the U.S. are increasingly eying municipal procurement and contracting procedures as opportunities to lessen economic inequality. With cities forking over billions to private companies for everything from construction projects to professional services, why not be intentional about writing those taxpayer checks to local businesses owned by women and minorities?
Cincinnati’s contracting overhaul, intended to hire more minority-owned businesses, went into effect last month. In New York City, Comptroller Scott Stringer has released two annual reports on city agency spending regarding the connection of procurement dollars to firms owned by women and minorities.
And this week, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh signed an executive order aimed at making sure women- and minority-owned businesses are getting a fair shot when competing for city contracts. The Boston Globe reported on the new goals:
For architectural and engineering subcontracts, for instance, 15 to 20 percent of spending is to go to businesses operated by people of color and another 15 to 20 percent of spending to women-led companies.
In addition, 10 to 15 percent of primary construction contracts under $500,000 should be awarded to minority-owned firms, and between 25 and 30 percent of primary professional services contracts under $500,000 should go to women-owned businesses.
The goals are based on a 2003 study that identified several areas in which the city was not using enough local firms owned by women and minorities.
As Next City’s equitable cities fellow, Oscar Perry Abello, reported last month, when it comes to snagging government contracts, many small firms face challenges — from building capital to government red tape. Boston plans to provide training to minority- and women-owned businesses to help them successfully bid on city contracts.
Walsh said in a statement that the city is using all “the tools at [their] disposal” to ensure that everyone in the city is benefiting from the city’s economic growth.
“Ensuring equal access across all modes of local government is more than a moral imperative — it is just the right thing to do,” Walsh said. “We must address economic inequities and build for a stronger and healthier Boston — a city that provides the same ladder of opportunity for all.”
The Walsh administration will also launch a new study by the end of this year to analyze racial, ethnic and gender bias in city procurement.
Kelsey E. Thomas is Next City’s associate editor.