It’s a significant difference of more than $ 160 million. Money that abandoned entrepreneurs could – and now will – have and set them on the path of building wealth for themselves and for color communities.
This kind of postponement would never be done by good intentions alone – setting racial spending targets was necessary and long overdue.
“If you don’t do that, you can’t move the needle,” said Colette Holt, a Texas attorney who specializes in positive action and contract compliance.
The debate is whether 10 percent is the right number, but it’s more than what the city is doing now. And if City Council President Kim Janey wants to futz with the percentage, that’s her prerogative. She will become acting mayor when Walsh leaves to join the Biden administration as labor secretary.
And of course there is room for further refinement of Walsh’s command. To start with, it’s important that we don’t group all colored people under a unique goal based on this 10 percent benchmark.
From the city’s study, we know that black-owned companies performed worst at getting city work – they received just 0.4 percent, or $ 9.4 million, in contracts from 2014 to 2019. Latino companies got 0.8 percent, or $ 18.2 million. American-owned companies from Asia received 1.1 percent, or $ 22.7 million, of work from the city.
To put that in perspective, Boston’s black and Latino populations are each more than twice the size of the Asian-American population. The Takeaway: The city did a little better figuring out how to reach Asian-American companies as suppliers, but not Black- and Latino-owned companies.
It’s understandable why three black and Latin American groups this week filed a civil rights complaint against the city of Boston alleging a pattern of discrimination against black and Latin owned businesses. Lead plaintiff, the Massachusetts Black Economic Council, wants the city to set a goal of spending 15 percent of its contract dollars on black-owned companies.
Tanisha Sullivan, president of the NAACP Boston office, who worked with the city in formulating the new goals, called it an “important milestone in promoting racial justice in contracting.”
Still, more work needs to be done, such as creating separate racial targets to reflect different challenges. This requires the legislation of the city council and state legislature to provide the legal framework for such a system. Without specific goals, Black and Latino owned businesses may still be severely underrepresented.
“Not all companies experience differences in the same way,” added Sullivan.
If setting clear goals is step one, step two ensures that town hall is held accountable if those goals are not met. Walsh’s Executive Order is a little unclear about consequences and enforcement, although city departments are required to produce annual reports showing whether they have met spending targets.
“Accountability gives you confidence in the process to apply in the first place,” said Greg Minott, Black, co-founder of Boston-based architecture firm Dream Collaborative and president of the Boston Society of Architecture.
Minott said he has started signing city contracts in recent years but has so far fallen short. Like other paint business owners I’ve spoken to, he’s had more success with private companies than with public bodies. He is confident that the degree and goals will change the landscape for companies like his.
He believes his firm’s biggest hurdle in securing a deal in Boston is a lack of experience working with the city. Which, of course, the company doesn’t have because it hasn’t won a contract yet. As Minott points out, renovating a privately owned building is not much different from doing the same work on a city owned building.
“That knowledge should be transferable,” he said.
If the city fails to meet its new contract spending targets, we know the excuse cannot be that there aren’t enough qualified businesses owned by colored people.
One of the most eye-opening parts of the 703-page disparity study the city officially released this week is that there is no shortage of talent in color communities. Many Black, Latin American, and Asian entrepreneur-owned companies could potentially land city contracts, but many are unwilling to participate in the application process because the odds have been so poor in the past.
According to the disparity study, if the participation rates had been higher, the city could easily have spent twice as much on companies owned by colored people.
Let’s be clear: color entrepreneurs I speak to don’t sit around waiting for a city contract. They find work in the private sector, often outside of Boston or Massachusetts. The study, which included in-depth interviews and surveys with business owners, confirms this.
For example, the study cited an unnamed black owner of a professional services company as saying, “Ironically, for a Boston city certified company [Minority Business Enterprise]We did more business in Georgia and California than in the city where our corporate offices are located. “
Cesar DaSilva, owner of Design Construction & Consulting Services in Dorchester, can relate to this. About 80 percent of his business comes from outside of Boston, where he grew up.
He has applied for modest city contracts for years, but has had a lean period during the Walsh administration. After three decades in business and around $ 1.5 million in annual sales, DaSilva said he really wants to get a public contract big enough to help his company grow to the next level.
“We are still here for thirty years, but we have not expanded,” said DaSilva, who is Cape Verdean and has eight employees. “The inequality is still there. … We feel it in everyday life when we see all this construction work around us, but we are not there. Why is this?”
The truth is we know why. Eliminating decades of bugs was not a priority. However, the new spending targets are quantifiable and not targeted. And in the end what is measured is done.
Shirley Leung is a business columnist. She can be reached at [email protected]