A task force appointed by Charlottesville City Council in 2017 to increase diversity in local government purchasing will continue its advisory role this year.
On Monday, City Councilor Wes Bellamy said he was “giddy” about the progress the Minority Business Task Force has made.
“I’m just really happy to see this initiative where it is now,” Bellamy said. “This is really going to move our city forward.”
In November, councilors appointed five members to the task force — Melvin Burruss, Mark Manafee, Kaye Monroe, Karen Totten White and Andrea Copeland-Whitsett — to develop a strategy to expand minority-owned businesses contracting with the city and to help hire and advise a minority business procurement coordinator. Deanna Scarsone, hired for that role in April, currently is receiving proposals for facilities maintenance and development projects.
Burruss said he and fellow members of the task force hope that the City Council eventually will seek the General Assembly’s approval to adopt legislation requiring a certain percentage of competitive expenditures to go to minority- or women-owned businesses.
The city of Virginia Beach passed a resolution in 2008 that set a goal of 10-percent minority participation in contracts for goods and services, construction and architecture and engineering services. However, minority-owned businesses received just 6.5 percent of these expenditures in fiscal year 2016.
Between FY2012 and FY2016, fewer than 2 percent of Charlottesville’s expenses for contracted jobs and procurements went to minority-owned businesses. However, Hollie Lee, the city’s chief of workforce development strategies, said this figure could be distorted by large contracts that had no minority-owned businesses in contention.
“We want to calculate a more accurate percentage for things that could actually be purchased from SWaM businesses,” she said, referring to small, women-owned and minority-owned enterprises. “We have never had that baseline before.”
Lee said the city has not collected data on its subcontractors.
“That’s where we see a lot of the opportunity for SWaM businesses,” she said. “We want to see how we can get them to a place where they are ready for those opportunities.”
Burruss said expanding opportunities for minority-owned construction businesses are necessary to reduce disparities in local government spending. However, he said the city’s immediate focus should be on small purchases.
“The city is buying goods every day, and there are many people out there who can fulfill those purchases,” Burruss said.
Charlottesville’s budget for the new fiscal year includes $72,000 for a minority business development coordinator in the Office of Economic Development who will oversee outreach, education and technical assistance related to minority business development. In addition, the Procurement and Economic Development offices are collaborating on a new supplier diversity program that aims to proactively identify and build relationships with local SWaM businesses.
Jeanetha Douglas, founder and owner of JBD Mobile Catering & Events, has contracted with the city to provide concessions at Washington and Meade parks for several years.
She said her work at Charlottesville parks led her to other catering opportunities at city meetings and events. This spring, she opened a restaurant on Hinton Avenue.
However, Douglas said financing her business is the greatest challenge for her and other women and minority entrepreneurs.
“It’s hard to get a bank loan if your credit is challenged and you don’t have money that you have saved up on your own,” she said.
Douglas has received additional support from the city through its Advancing Charlottesville Entrepreneurs program, which provides one-time funding of up to $1,000 for new equipment, products or services that will directly lead to increasing business revenue.
“[The ACE program] definitely has helped with items I’ve needed for different contracts,” she said. “It may be that one piece of equipment that can make or break your business.”
At Monday’s City Council meeting, Charlottesville resident Tanesha Hudson said black-owned businesses needed more grant funding from the city.
She noted that the council awarded a one-time grant of $75,000 to the Downtown Business Association of Charlottesville in March to support marketing efforts.
“At this point, we need a check cut, the same way a check was cut for the downtown businesses,” Hudson said. “We need to look at the people who have been here and have been struggling. They are feeling a real effect and if we don’t help them, their doors are going to close.”
Bellamy said he also wanted to provide more resources to minority-owned businesses in Charlottesville.
“But we need to have a plan in place,” Bellamy said. “That’s specifically what this task force is for. We now have two positions to deal just with this ... This is new for us.”