VOL. 129 | NO. 113 | Wednesday, June 11, 2014
Coalition Vows Push for Minority Business Gains
By Bill Dries
For decades, goals and percentages have been set for minority business participation in city and county governments.
Both governments have compliance offices. Elected officials look at percentages and ask questions about participation on particular projects.
A coalition of business leaders have announced they will push for more minority business participation in not only local government contracts but private business contracts.
(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)
But a new coalition of business leaders announced Tuesday, June 10, that they plan to make the issue more of a political priority.
“We come in peace,” said Darrell Cobbins, president and CEO of Universal Commercial LLC. “But we also come in purpose.”
Cobbins and a group of 100 business and political leaders gathered in the lobby of the National Civil Rights Museum to say they intend to push beyond studies and systems to monitor progress to grow minority business participation in city and county government contracts and in private-sector contracts as well.
“We’re at a breaking point. … We’re not coming here with our hands out. We’re not asking for handouts,” said Ron Redwing, president of 100 Black Men of Memphis. “The people who’ve joined in this are people who are doing well. We’re saying as we move forward, the gap is way too large. We cannot and will not accept mediocrity or non-action as we move forward.”
Cobbins said such economic development is about building a larger middle class in Memphis.
“I think it’s more than reasonable to participate in the economic activity and prosperity of this community,” Cobbins said. “This group intentionally has no name. It has no tagline. It has not catchphrase because we are Memphians. … We believe in Memphis and all of its ideals and aspirations.”
The coalition is part of an ongoing reaction to the issue of minority contracts with Shelby County government that the Shelby County Commission debated in May.
The debate included Commissioner Henri Brooks berating a Hispanic businessman for comparing his status in Memphis as a minority to that of African-Americans.
The exchange between Brooks and Pablo Pereyra got most of the attention. But within a week, Mauricio Calvo, the director of Latino Memphis, and Keith Norman, the president of the Memphis branch NAACP, said the larger issue is the share of county contracts that minority business owners as a whole are getting.
That, in turn, prompted Cobbins to begin working toward the coalition via a Facebook-fueled discussion. Cobbins and others in the effort want to develop a plan of action that rises above the technical aspects of monitoring minority business to get at political will – in the business sector as well as the political arena.
“The next step is to understand the issue,” Cobbins said. “Our next step is to begin to sit down with the leaders who can impact the issue across the community … and beginning the process of really digging beneath the surface of the disparity studies to really understand what are the logjams.”
Redwing said the goal is to “spotlight these disparities in a way that brings about swift and significant change.”
“Twenty years later, we are still having this conversation,” Redwing said.
The 1994 disparity study that documented a disparity in contracts with minority-owned businesses was a necessary step for local governments to maintain goals for minority business in the wake of a landmark 1989 U.S. Supreme Court ruling involving the use of minority set-asides by the city of Richmond, Va., in awarding government contracts.
The court ruled the preference for minority-owned businesses was unconstitutional and that Richmond leaders did not identify the need for remedial action.
The disparity study was a way of identifying the need by confirming a disparity.
And Redwing was adamant that more studies documenting the disparity are not what the coalition has in mind.
“This is not about programs. This is not about studies. This is about having the will,” he said. “We don’t need any studies. There are no studies needed or wanted here. We’ve been bogged down for too long in the practice of paying consultants a heckuva lot of money to tell us what we already know.”