VOL. 131 | NO. 54 | Wednesday, March 16, 2016
MWBE Taskforce Searching for Concrete Plan
By Madeline Faber
The Memphis City Council is the latest group to address the disparity of business secured by women- and minority-owned businesses in the city and county.
On March 14, the MWBE Taskforce held its inaugural meeting. Organized by council member Janis Fullilove, it will propose realistic and and sustainable approaches that the city could take to increase the participation of MWBEs.
Representatives from the city of Memphis, Shelby County, Shelby County Schools board and the private sector serve on the ad-hoc committee. Immediate goals include a comprehensive study of how a minority- or woman-owned business is certified and how to make these businesses more visible to contractors and procurement directors.
The taskforce was formed in response to council member Berlin Boyd’s call for a three-month moratorium on any new tax breaks from the Memphis-Shelby County Economic Development Growth Engine.
His call to action was born out of new data revealing that 0.83 percent of all business revenue in the city and 5.8 percent of revenue collected by businesses in Shelby County is being captured by black-owned businesses.
At its February meeting, the council decided to instead form a three-month task force to target the issue, effectively nullifying Boyd’s request to stop issuing tax breaks for three months.
At the committee’s first meeting, several members mentioned the simultaneous efforts and studies taking place across the city. Darrell Cobbins, president and CEO of Universal Commercial, said the robust representation of Memphis’ sectors and institutions within the MWBE Taskforce could lead to greater cooperation.
“I know the chamber has been working on its plan for six months. I know it’s a very big task to take on in 90 days,” added Fullilove.
On March 16, the Greater Memphis Chamber is set to present its own diversity plan to the EDGE board. The plan makes contracting with minority and locally owned businesses a voluntary task backed by positive incentives. At the chamber’s request, EDGE has held off on initiating its own diversity plan, which makes contracting with minority and locally owned businesses a hard requirement backed by penalties.
“I think in the past 18 months you’ve seen a number of organizations do disparity studies, come up with working groups and taskforces, so there’s movement that’s occurring and that’s a good thing,” said Cobbins. “What we have to be is focused and strategic so all of the pieces are all moving together and not creating a big ball of confusion.”
Shelby County Commissioner Van Turner said he’s serving on the MWBE Taskforce to take recommended policies to the county, which doesn’t have a MWBE program.
“We can come up with committees and plans, but I’m interested in results that can be implemented,” he said.
Instead of a minority classification, small businesses in Shelby County are certified as locally owned businesses.
“There’s no need for duplication,” he said. Instead, Turner would like to see streamlined certification processes in both the city and county, greater alignment with the private sector and an incubation program to foster local businesses.
Darrell Thomas, president and CEO of Thomas Consultants, is serving as chair of the MWBE Taskforce. He said that he’s been involved in diversity inclusion efforts in the past, but hasn’t seen this much momentum in the past 10 years.
“Hopefully, there will be no turning back this time around and we can put some decisions down so something concrete can happen,” he said.