Nashville Minority Business Center launches contracting for equity, to host legislative day at state capitol

Last updated on November 9th, 2018 at 05:26 pm

Marilyn Robinson, Executive Director of the Nashville Minority Business Center (4th from the left), and Ken Jobe, Press Secretary for the Tennessee House Democratic Caucus (Center), pose with Tennessee House Democratic Caucus members.

The Nashville Minority Business Center, in partnership with the Contracting for Equity Business Alliance, is gearing up to host Contracting for Equity: 2018 Legislative Day on Capitol Hill. The event, held from 8 am to 2 pm on Wednesday, February 28, at the Tennessee State Capitol. It will gather entrepreneurs from across Tennessee to advocate for the equitable distribution of the state’s contracts to private companies.

The overarching goal of the event is to ask state legislators to amend the Tennessee Minority Owned, Woman Owned, and Small Business Procurement and Contracting Act. The Nashville Minority Business Center and the Contracting for Equity Business Alliance have partnered with the Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators and other state policymakers to amend the current law. The proposed amendment would establish a statewide pilot program to allow select small business owners to do business directly with state government, rather than partnering or unfairly competing with larger firms for the state’s business. The proposed pilot is modeled after a federal procurement and contracting program, called the 8(a) Business Development Program.

“We are excited about the opportunity to give entrepreneurs a voice in determining how the state government chooses to do business with private companies,” said Marilyn Robinson, executive director of the Nashville Minority Business Center. “This proposed amendment will be a game changer for many business owners. Small businesses are vital to our economy, and this amendment will provide them with a real opportunity to grow their businesses and create more jobs.”

In addition to the proposed amendment, the Center and Alliance are also simultaneously presenting state public administrators with a list of policy, programmatic, and procedural recommendations to refine its public contracting processes. The recommendations are based on feedback from business owners across Tennessee, state and local public administrators, as well as best practices from around the nation, including Seattle, Houston, New York City, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C. The recommendations will be publicly available immediately after the legislative day activities. Members of the media may request an embargoed copy of the recommendations.

The amendment and proposed policy changes would affect approximately 1,500 small, women, and minority owned businesses statewide.

The call for contracting equity comes nearly 10 years after the state of Tennessee hired Griffin & Strong, P.C. to complete a disparity study of its contracting processes. A disparity study determines whet-her a government entity, either in the past or currently, engages in exclusionary practices in the solicitation and award of contracts to minority, and women- owned, and disadvantaged business enterprises. The 2009 disparity study determined that ‘significant disparities exist in all areas of state of Tennessee contracting.’ Among several other findings, the study concluded that while the state has made ‘noteworthy’ progress, “minority and women owned businesses suffer from the continuing effects of past discrimination and, in some instances, continuing discrimination.”

-The Governor’s Office of Diversity Business Enterprise (GoDBE) (the entity created in 2003 with the charge to expand economic opportunities for small businesses and small businesses owned by minorities and women) reported in December 2017 that small businesses owned by ethnic minorities received approximately four percent (or about $146 million) of total government contract spending statewide, according to its annual report. State government agencies, the University of Tennessee, and the Tennessee Board of Regents spent about $3.6 billion in the total contracts it awarded to private companies.

“We know what the issues are and we have known for quite some time,” Robinson said. “We do not need to undergo another study. The state reports its progress annually and the numbers are nearly the same each year: businesses owned by ethnic minorities receive approximately four percent of total state spending in contracts annually, while those businesses owned by African Americans only receive approximately two percent of total state contract spends. This is the progress after decades of trying. Now is not the time for more study. Now is the time for strong recommendations and a comprehensive solution.”

Following the legislative day activities at the Tennessee State Capitol, the group will attend the Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators meeting from 4:30-5:30 pm to address policymakers.

Immediately following the meeting with legislators, the group will mix and mingle at Morton’s Steakhouse.

Prospective attendees may register for the legislative day and other activities at www.contractingforequity.org.