Representatives from branches of Minnesota State government were invited to the Wilder Foundation in St. Paul to participate as panelists in an employment and business opportunity forum sponsored by the African American Leadership Forum (AALF) on September 10. The panelists were introduced by Jeffery Hassan, executive director for the AALF. Close to 100 people, mostly Black business owners and would-be owners, were in attendance.
Panelists included James Burroughs, Governor Dayton’s chief inclusion officer; Karen Francois, assistant commissioner of the Office of Career and Business Opportunity; Edwin Hudson, deputy commissioner of Enterprise Human Capital; and Alice Roberts, assistant commissioner of Property & Purchasing.
African Americans were strongly encouraged by each panelist to apply for jobs with the State if they are currently looking for work. Attendees were told to expect different results from the new and improved State of Minnesota employment process.
According to some of the comments, past problems with the previous system included people applying to the State of Minnesota job site but not receiving any feedback or response, which obviously never produced an interview for some people. According to Francois, the application process has changed and is better now.
The panel fielded many questions about various available jobs on a list that was given to attendees. The MSR asked panelists if they had any plans to protect applicants from age discrimination, to which Hudson answered in the affirmative.
“We know that each one of us has biases, so we have set up special training already and began addressing this problem,” said Hudson.
As chief inclusion officer for the State of Minnesota, Burroughs has the challenging task of increasing the number of minority and disabled workers for the State of Minnesota, as well as leading an aggressive outreach effort to increase the State of Minnesota’s contracts with minority businesses. In the past, Blacks have earned less than one percent of the State’s two billion dollars in annual contracts.
The MSR spoke with Burroughs (JB) about the State of Minnesota’s goals to address disparities.
MSR: Why is this forum so important to your office?
JB: Very simply, we have an opportunity in this state to increase the capacity of minority-owned businesses and also build economic wealth in our communities. Part of a small business receiving contract opportunities is to build capacity so they can give jobs to the community. We have to increase our numbers in the workforce.
We have to make sure that we reflect the representation of the community. Right now, we don’t. [We are currently] at 10 percent people of color. We want to increase that by 20 percent if not more. On the business side of things, we want to create more momentum of getting more businesses of color opportunities. When they get those contracts, they build revenue and hire people from the community.
MSR: In your building capacity plans, how are you planning to help a construction company of color that wants to go beyond being a 20 percent set-aside, if they want to be the next Mortensen Construction?
JB: This is something that is on our radar, but it’s a long-range goal. In construction…our minority-owned companies are nowhere near the size bonding-wise to get those larger projects. So we want to help them build their capacity to get there.
One of the ways is to match them up with a mentoring company to gain some experience working on bigger projects. It not only an idea to those large construction companies to subcontract to minority-owned business, but to help to develop them as their mentor. We met with Mortensen’s president and other big construction company presidents and asked them how to develop the next Thor Construction.
MSR: What did not get covered today that you would like our readers to know?
JB: This is something that got covered, but I want to make sure people understand it. That is the $25,000 Targeted Business Group exception. If you are a targeted business — disabled or military veteran in business — we can contract with you without an RFP process.
Burroughs said the information about that process is on the State’s website, and that a person can own more than one business when applying.
Following their presentation, representatives from the State’s equity and procurement teams answered questions and processed applications for employment and business opportunities.
For more information on State jobs and contracts, contact James Burroughs, at 651-201-3411 or email email@example.com.
James L. Stroud, Jr. welcomes readers’ responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.
James L. Stroud, Jr. is a contributing writer and photographer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.