The city awards tens of millions of dollars of contracts each year to private companies that provide services to supplement the great work of our city employees. City Council has passed various ordinances requiring a certain percentage of these contracts be awarded to minority- and women-owned businesses and has created the Equal Opportunity Review Commission to track compliance with these ordinances and impose penalties for failure to comply. These are great steps to ensuring equitable participation in city contracting and providing opportunities to minority- and women-owned businesses that might not otherwise be able to take advantage of them. However, the tracking of compliance with these ordinances has been less than comprehensive and the city hasn’t done enough to increase the level of participation of small minority- and women-owned businesses.
1. Develop Support Services for Targeted Contractors
New York City has recently implemented a package of reforms to their minority- and women-owned contracting requirements that Pittsburgh should learn from and adopt. One of the centerpieces of these reforms are support services provided by the city to help minority- and women-owned businesses navigate the sometimes-complex bid and proposal process to put their best foot forward and become competitive with larger, more established contracting firms. We should develop training and technical assistance programs for all qualified minority- and women-owned businesses similar to those put in place for veteran-owned businesses and invite all potential contractors to participate in these training sessions before submitting a bid. Not only would this increase the number of eligible minority- and women-owned contractors for the city to do business with but it would also provide these contractors with skills to help them win more work in the private sector and grow their businesses that much faster.
2. Develop a Centralized Database of Contracting Opportunities
It can often be challenging for small minority- and women-owned contractors to even find out about the opportunities made available by the city. Currently, contracting opportunities are spread out throughout each department’s pages on the city’s website and are advertised intermittently in print in certain newspapers. We should create an easy-to-access centralized database of contracting opportunities open and available to anyone who is interested.
3. Improve Compliance Tracking
We also need to fully implement legislation recently passed by City Council to improve our tracking of compliance with City Code related to minority- and women-owned contractors. Too often promises are made to dedicate a certain percentage of contracts to these business owners but the city doesn’t follow through and no one checks up to make sure those promises are fulfilled.