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Janey announces programs aimed at tackling city contract inequity

Mayor Kim Janey announced several initiatives Wednesday aimed at addressing equity in city contracting — including a newly established Boston Contracting Opportunity Fund, as well as participation goals for minority and women-owned contractors.

construction worker walks across a steel beam
A Boston construction worker walks across a steel beam. Mayor Kim Janey introduced a series of supplier diversity initiatives Wednesday aimed at reducing disparities in City contracting. MADDIE MALHOTRA/ DFP FILE

The Boston Contracting Opportunity Fund will award grants of up to $15,000 to companies looking to bid for city contracts, according to a Wednesday press release by the Mayor’s Office of Economic Development. The fund totals $750,000.

“There’s a need to invest in the capacity of local businesses,” said Celina Barrios-Millner, Boston’s chief of equity and inclusion.

By increasing the capacity of contractors, the fund allows them to meet the equipment requirements and certifications for jobs, Barrios-Millner said. Currently, funding is only available to contractors looking to work with the city.

“It doesn’t mean that whatever investment we make in them to help them build their capacity isn’t something that they can’t leverage with other clients,” Barrios-Millner said.

In addition to the contracting fund, Janey announced a new goal of devoting 25% of City contract spending to minority and women-owned businesses. Barrios-Millner added that the annual goal is 15% for women-owned businesses and 10% for minority-owned businesses.

“Part of why the goal is larger for women is because there’s more women-owned businesses available,” Barrios-Millner said.

Barrios-Millner noted that the term “women-owned businesses” only refers to businesses owned by white women — women of color are grouped by their race or ethnicity.

The 25% goal comes from a disparity study completed in February, according to the press release, which found that while 19.7% of minority and women-owned construction companies were available for City contracts, they were awarded only 6.7% of contracts.

“The numbers were worse than I thought,” said Peter Hurst, president and CEO of the Greater New England Minority Supplier Development Council.

Hurst also became a member of the City’s Supplier Diversity Advisory Council more than a year ago, which was established by former Mayor Marty Walsh. The council focused much of its efforts on the completion of the disparity study, Hurst said.

“If you think about the composition of people of color in the city of Boston, it’s just shocking,” Hurst said.

Hurst added that there were noticeable differences in the numbers for women-owned businesses and minority-owned businesses. Women-owned businesses made up 8.5% of city contracts, while minority-owned businesses made up a total of 2.5%, according to the disparity study.

Hurst said it would be “great” if the 25% goal applied to only minority-owned businesses. He also recommended the private sector match or exceed the $750,000 provided by the Boston Contract Opportunity Fund and that city employees who manage these contracts be held responsible.

“Unless you hold the people who are actually making the procurement decisions accountable, then you’re always going to be chasing the ghost,” Hurst said. “You won’t realize that you missed the numbers until someone sees the report, and by then, years have passed and opportunities have been lost.”

Chris West, founder of Royalty Construction Services, a Black-owned general contracting business in Roxbury, Massachusetts, said he was excited about the new initiatives after being disappointed with the results of the disparity study.

“It’s extremely important that I hire and work with people in my community,” West said. “One of my goals is to help other Black men or women that are in my community and have a similar background and upbringing that I had.”

West said he was particularly excited about the Boston Contract Opportunity Fund.

“It gives small businesses, such as ours, just a little bit of hope and motivation to potentially do business with the city in the near future,” West said.

While he appreciates the new initiatives, West said it’s important that the City gets the word out to small businesses.

“We’re just so consumed with our day-to-day operations,” West said. “Sometimes we just overlook these opportunities and they can be right in front of our face. And other times, we really don’t know because they’re not marketed well.”

Royalty Construction Services previously bid on a city contract for snow removal, but was not selected, West said. With these new initiatives, West said he hopes to work with the city of Boston in the future.

“We’re a big part of this economy in the city and the state, and it’s unfortunate that we get overlooked,” West said, “But hopefully with this new year, new administration, this will change, and we’ll start to get a larger piece of the pie.”

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