Less than one percent: That’s Black businesses’ share of MN public sector spending

(MGN Online)

The African American Leadership Forum (AALF) two years ago asked several public entities about their spending with Black-owned businesses. Last weekend, the group released their report showing what at least seven public entities have spent in recent years with Black businesses. The results fell far short of a recommended six percent minimum to reflect the state’s African American population.

The State of Minnesota, University of Minnesota, City of Minneapolis, City of St. Paul, Hennepin County, Metropolitan Council and Metropolitan Airport Commission (MAC) reported that they spent a combined total of over $4 billion in fiscal years 2015 and 2016 in contracts and purchasing goods and services, but less than one percent of this went to Black-owned businesses, says the AALF 2017 Public Sector Report.

The group released its findings during its scheduled March 10 “Show Me the Money!” forum at the U of M’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs. The forum’s title came from a popular line spoken by Cuba Gooding’s character in the movie Jerry Maguire. It was repeated by AALF officials when they met with representatives of the public entities a couple of years ago, Nawal Noor of Noor Development Group told the majority-Black audience as she moderated the “Show Me The Money” panel discussion on the need for more public spending with Black businesses to advance economic equity.

Jeff Hassan Charles Hallman/MSR News

“Many of us have been at these tables for 30 or 40 years…and it’s the same song and dance,” AALF Executive Director Jeff Hassan added. “The numbers are disgusting.”

The AALF report discloses the following spending with Black-owned businesses: Hennepin County ($1.8 million), MAC ($1.2 million), State of Minnesota ($724,614), and City of St. Paul (over $600,000). The group currently is working with Minneapolis Public Schools and St. Paul Public Schools to provide their “disaggregated” spending data as well.

Noor described “disaggregation” to the MSR as a breakdown of spending by race. “What we learned in our research [is that] most entities don’t break out data to specifically show [spending on] African Americans,” she explained.

Nawal Noor Charles Hallman/MSR News

Minnesota Department of Administration Assistant Commissioner Alice Roberts-Davis said last Saturday that compiling spending data by race wasn’t easy, but it was nonetheless necessary.  She was joined as a panelist by MEDA President Gary Cunningham, New Salem Baptist Church Pastor Rev. Jerry McAfee, and Ravi Norman, Thor Construction CEO.

“What we found was embarrassing,” Roberts-Davis admitted on the State’s spending with Black-owned firms. “We knew we had to focus on Black businesses in the Black community.” She added that since last July the State has spent an estimated $1.3 million with Black businesses. “This is a real small sliver of our State spending,” she acknowledged.

McAfee, a longtime economic equity proponent, criticized State officials and others for not being more transparent in their spending with Black businesses. He also challenged as unacceptable those entities’ claim that it is too difficult for them to provide the disaggregated data. “It’s urgency. We got to get into a faster mode,” McAfee stressed.

Roberts-Davis later told the MSR, “It’s not the first time people have been disenchanted with the results and what’s happening at the State. What we have to do is continue the work we are doing and push forward and prove that this is serious.”

She told the audience that more Black businesses must get certified by the State in order to qualify for business with State agencies. “Why not? It’s free,” Roberts-Davis said of the new online application process her office introduced March 1. “Certification is a very important part,” she pointed out.

Alice Roberts-Davis Charles Hallman/MSR News

The public should know how and where their tax dollars are being spent by public entities, Noor noted. Blacks and other ethnic groups in Minnesota contribute an estimated $500 million per year in state and local taxes, according to the AALF report.

She suggested that at least six percent of annual public entity spending be done with Black businesses. “The African American community represents about six percent of the state’s population. The spending should be similar or close to that percentage – that’s the minimum,” Noor told the MSR.

Black businesses help provide community vitality, Cunningham pointed out.  “If we build businesses within our community, we can transform our own conditions… We wouldn’t have to be dependent on anyone else.”

Roberts-Davis emphasized the importance of working cooperatively with the AALF and other Black organizations in creating better opportunities for Black businesses. “What we need is a partnership and not an adversarial relationship,” she said.

“Our number-one priority is to find the data” on public spending with Black-owned businesses, Noor said. “You can’t work on the problem if you don’t have the information.

“Our goal for [AALF’s next year’s report] is for that number to increase to 21” public entities reporting their disaggregated spending data, she said.


Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com