On Tuesday, September 20, Minority and Women Owned Businesses (M/WBE) were invited to an open house to learn how the City will issue its over $16 billion in contracts. The event was held at the Jamaica Performing Arts Center. It was an opportunity to network with city agencies and to speak directly with representatives from City Hall and Small Business Services about doing business with the City.
The forum was a scaled down version of the open houses the City typically hosts in lower Manhattan. The Queens location was a benefit for those business owners whose schedule and transit concerns do not allow them to attend the larger forums in Manhattan. The location was also key because revitalization is coming to Downtown Jamaica via the Jamaica Now initiative and several grants for transportation upgrades. This was a means of sounding the alarm for area businesses and entrepreneurs to get on board.
Gregory Bishop, Commissioner of Small Business Services (SBS), opened the forum and mingled with business owners about possibilities. He was one of many high ranking City Hall representatives who attended the forum. The three-hour forum was most lively at the start and petered off pretty quickly after those in attendance dropped off their business cards and picked up resources (and the free tote bags and mementos).
Most often the process of doing business with the city, particularly for M/WBEs is daunting and disappointing. The City’s own record is proof of the limited amount of engagement for M/WBEs. NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer issues letter grades for city agencies on how well they procure goods and services through MWBE enterprises. The average grade citywide in 2015 was a D+, which is higher than its 2014 grade of D.
For those that were willing to stay and engage at the forum, there was interesting information and optimism.
“This is where opportunity starts,” said Jonnel Doris, Senior Advisor for M/WBE Office of the Counsel to the Mayor and Southeast Queens resident. “Government has come to Queens.”
Jonnel plays a key role in M/WBE oversight. In his role, he ensures that those with City contracts are M/WBE compliant while fulfilling the contract, not after. Part of insuring that compliance occurs is in knowing a pool of M/WBE contractors the City can utilize for resources.
Commissioner Bishop wants “more businesses to be certified and for businesses to have access to capital,” he said. The SBS will be doing more outreach and have a host of services to assist businesses in their effort to grow and do business with the City.
“Doing business with the city is very complex. We want to make sure you know how to work smarter,” said Bishop. The City will also allow businesses to float loans against awarded contracts to the tune of a half million dollars.
The confidence and positive outlook of Bishop were evident, however he agreed that the knowledge of what is available and being done to support M/WBEs is not widespread. §
As published in the October 2016 issue of Communities of Color News