Despite progress, ‘We’ve got a long way to go’
Since 2015, according to a report released by Governor Mark Dayton’s office, State spending with Black, Asian, Latino, Indigenous, veteran and women-owned businesses has significantly increased. The report, released last week, showed significant spending growth with Black-owned firms — from $135,000 in 2015 to over $1.5 million in 2017.
During the same period, spending increased with Asian-owned businesses ($11 million to $16 million); Latino-owned businesses ($1.1 million to $2.7 million); Indigenous-owned firms ($73,147 to $141,720), women-owned businesses ($25 million to $47 million) and veteran-owned businesses ($1.8 million to $6.8 million).
“This report is encouraging,” said Dayton in a released statement. “But we have much more to do to help all Minnesota business owners find new business opportunities with the State of Minnesota.”
Mandatory diversity and inclusion training for State buyers improved the tracking of targeted businesses. Better monitoring of subcontractor diversity and streamlined certification were also instituted, among other measures.
In a conference call last week with Commissioner of Administration Matt Massman and Assistant Commissioner Alice Roberts-Davis, both officials spoke in great detail on Minnesota’s efforts to purchase with diverse businesses and on the State’s commitment to improve diversity in state contracts.
“Many of these programs have been in place for a couple of decades,” Massman stressed. “I think ultimately why we largely are successful is because of the commitment that starts from the governor on down to me, Alice, and her team and [others]. It is important. It matters and it needs to succeed.”
Roberts-Davis added that mandatory training with approximately 700 State purchasing agents proved successful as well. “The training was very specific about how to understand the importance of diversity and inclusion,” she pointed out.
Her department also introduced “Equity Connect,” a new procurement option. State law now allows for direct purchases of up to $25,000 from certified targeted group businesses. “It creates a relationship between the buyer and the targeted group business,” Roberts-Davis stressed. “It really appeals to the buyer because it allows them [to]…go directly to the targeted group business.”
Getting certified was considered a major roadblock for new and smaller businesses. A new streamlined certification process produced 33 percent growth from 898 such businesses owned by people of color, women, and veterans to 1,200 such firms that are now certified to do business with the State. “Our efforts are more wide-reaching,” Roberts-Davis said.
She also pointed to “enhanced outreach efforts,” which include a new Equity in Procurement office that increases the number of full-time State employees working with diverse businesses from one to six. “Two years ago we did about five outreach events a year. We did more than 80 in 2017,” the assistant commissioner reported.
Tracking targeted businesses has improved as well: “We didn’t have a lot of data,” Roberts-Davis admitted. “Over the past 18 months, we were able to get data” in State spending with businesses owned by underrepresented groups and set State subcontracting goals as well — eight percent with certified targeted group businesses and 12 percent with all businesses of color.
Asked if this progress will continue after Dayton leaves office next year, Commissioner Massman responded, “We are working very hard to make sure that we are making not only programmatic changes but cultural changes within State government. I hope that the next governor will have a similar priority.”
Roberts-Davis praised the support of Massman and Governor Dayton in their commitment to see more State spending with Black-owned businesses and businesses owned by other people of color.
“Black-owned businesses are more likely to hire Blacks,” she stated. “We see the impact on the entire community by hiring people from the community. All Minnesotans are taxpayers, and it should be fair that all Minnesotans be able to compete for State contracts.”
“This always has been the right thing to do, but also the smart thing to do,” Massman added. “It’s smart for us to reach out to as many businesses as possible from a competitive standpoint [and] creativity standpoint. It is an important value of State government.
“We have made progress,” he said. “We need to make a lot more progress. We’ve got a long way to go, but we are excited on the progress we have made, and we will keep building on it,” the commissioner pledged. “We have more work to do.”
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Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.