M/WBE participation a key to economic success

If we, as Black New Yorkers, are serious about Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprise opportunities across the State of New York, then we need to get into the game in a much more vigorous and meaningful way.

One of the major problems in state contracting is that in far too many cases, Black firms are not up for these contracts because first, they don’t exist in certain spaces; second, they are not certified as an M/WBE; and third, if they are certified they sometimes just don’t bid on the projects.

If the city and state are serious about meeting their goals for M/WBE inclusion, then the conversation for all of us needs to change and include real movement toward ensuring that “minorities,” especially Blacks, are positioned in a way they can take advantage of the opportunities that are available, so they can bid to be prime contractors on major projects.

New York State under the leadership of Gov. Andrew Cuomo has set a goal of 30 percent M/WBE participation across the state. Currently, the rate is in excess of 23 percent, a jump from approximately 10 percent when he took office.

The governor is working on ensuring his goal of 30 percent M/WBE participation is met. Although this goal is completely achievable, the reality is that minority businesses need to become the prime contractors on major projects, not just subcontractors.

Currently, with billions of dollars on the table, statewide there are few prime contractors who are M/WBEs and of those who are prime, they are primarily women and other minorities who are not Black. So the work lies on many fronts to change that paradigm. There are programs the state has created to help ensure smaller companies have access to capital that is needed to be successful, but still more needs to be done.

When we look at current projects underway, it is difficult to imagine the scale and the real generational wealth that could be created if Black firms were real players in the state contracting system. Right now the Second Avenue Subway expansion project from 96th Street to 125th Street is underway. The contracts for this project alone are in excess of $4.5 billion. Although a federally funded project, if we achieve 30 percent Disadvantaged Business Enterprise participation, that equals more than $1.3 billion in contracts.

The state has done pretty well in reaching its goals, but as the projects get bigger the numbers get larger and the need for organizations to do the work is key.  That is why it is so disappointing when few to no persons, or groups of persons of color, bid to become primes on capital projects such as this one.

Separately, in New York City, which is the most diverse part of the state, the failure of the city to truly engage with M/WBEs is alarming. New York City’s goal for M/WBEs is non-existent. And the needle has not really moved under Mayor Bill De Blasio’s leadership, with the M/WBE numbers still hovering around 5 percent.

We need to be at the table from the beginning and understand that the contracting process starts years before the first shovel is put into the ground. We need to partner with other groups on the prime level so that we can be part of those billion-dollar contracts and eventually get them for ourselves.

But let’s be clear. Although we are on our way, we need the M/WBE programs expanded and the support increased, and we need to do our part to make sure we are in the position where they can’t say no to granting us the contracts. And on the city level, we need some goals so that there can be some real accountability.