Intentional Involvement

Being involved in the SDMWVBE (Small, Disadvantaged, Minority, Women or Veteran Business Enterprise) community should mean more than taking advantage of opportunities.  We’ve often written about “walking the walk”, creating our own opportunities for and supporting other SDMWVBE businesses.  For us, this meant commenting at a public hearing in Allegheny County Pennsylvania regarding potential changes to the ordinances on MWBE goals.

Thank you, Chairwoman Green Hawkins, for holding this important hearing on the proposed changes to the language regarding Allegheny County’s Minority, Women and Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Program. I appreciate this opportunity to comment. I am reading from these notes so as not to waste your time.

My name is Joanne Peterson, and I am involved in two women-owned businesses in the County. I am deeply concerned by the proposed changes for several reasons. A healthy economy requires strong MWBE businesses to create jobs and deliver products or services. Government and corporate purchasing and supplier communities must cooperate in developing reliable, viable relationships to make MWBE supplier diversity work effectively.

Inserting language to accept only DOT-based UCP certifications limits the County and its prime contractors from making use of those MWBEs certified by the National Minority Supplier Diversity Council (NMSDC) and the Women’s Business Enterpise National Council (WBENC). Not everyone can qualify under UCP. I believe that ending this opportunity for larger MWBE firms to participate in the County’s MWBE program may reduce County tax revenues with a net negative in the number of employees they will be able to retain who pay County property taxes and spend money with other County-based businesses – parking fees, PAT riders, entertainment and sales tax revenues. I respectfully request that the eligibility standard in paragraph 435-6 read Socially OR economically disadvantaged individuals.

Many large companies and agencies hear the words small or disadvantaged and recoil. There is a stigma that small disadvantaged diverse suppliers are often operating on slim margins, tend to be undercapitalized and cash poor – implying that we don’t have the wherewithal to deliver. Consequently, we small, MWBEs rely on these larger MWBEs – like 84 Lumber – to advocate, mentor and help us build our capacity so that we may grow to serve as primes ourselves.

Just last month, the MWDBE Governmental Committee comprised of member organizations including the Allegheny County Airport Authority; Dept. of MWBE; Dept. of Public Works; Economic Development; Housing Authority; Sanitary Authority; and Port Authority passed out a flyer at SHARE 2015 publicizing NMSDC’s Eastern Minority Supplier Development Council and WBENC as third party certifiers. The third party certification process is as rigorous as the UCP application process and Allegheny County businesses have invested significant time, money and resources to achieve these certifications. The change proposed by this ordinance will impact every Allegheny County business certified by these organizations, barring them from participation as goal-based MWBE suppliers in all future County procurements.

On a personal note, when we bought a building in Wilkinsburg, we wanted to make the rehabilition 100% MWBE. So, the first thing we did was put out a request for proposal to all the MWBE contractors on the Allegheny County MWBE web site and all WBENC members asking for bids. Only one company, a large WBE, actually responded. We ended up cobbling together a diverse spend involving two small and one large County registered MWBEs, none of whom are UCP certified. One of our suppliers in this effort is 84 Lumber.

Abator has been fortunate to work with Amy Criss at 84 Lumber as a direct result of our WBENC certification. I have witnessed 84’s commitment to bringing other small, diverse businesses within Allegheny County to the table over the last three years. To deny 84 Lumber and equivalently large NMSDC certified companies the opportunity to particpate in meeting County MWBE goals will directly impact the number of second-tier or subcontract opportunities for businesses like mine.

I have never understood the disparity between Minority 13% and Women 2% goals. I had to explain, in detail, to a prime for a David Lawrence Convention Center opportunity that they could not count spend with us as meeting the entire DBE goal – they are also required to engage another firm for the MBE portion. This spending ordinance is confusing to primes and seems to create substantial discrepancies in economic progress.

I would encourage the County to continue to recognize third party certifiers and to consider adjusting its goals to be more inclusive, by adding disabled and veteran businesses. Over 1 in 5 Americans, approximately 54 million people, have a disability making it the largest minority group in the nation transcending race, ethnicity or gender – yet Allegheny County has no goals for businesses owned and operated by this important group.

Thank you again for your time and consideration in this matter.

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One Response to Intentional Involvement

  1. Pingback: Diversity & Inclusion in 2016 | Diversity Business Blog

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