VOL. 133 | NO. 128 | Wednesday, June 27, 2018
City Minority Business Effort Goes For One-on-One Talks
By Bill Dries
The business of awarding city government contracts is a very formal process with information given out about a contract up for bid at a specific time with so many days to respond in writing.
City Hall’s move to award more of those contracts to local, minority- and women-owned businesses will place business owners new to the government contracting process across the table from city division directors on Wednesday, June 27.
The We Mean Business Symposium and Luncheon at the Memphis Cook Convention Center is hosted by the city’s Office of Business Diversity and Compliance. The event, in its third year, is from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
The free event is credited by Joann Massey, the director of the office, with playing a large role in increasing the percentage of city contracts with minority- and women-owned businesses from 16 percent to 21 percent in those three years.
“It is what we call a glance into the future opportunities both in city government and county government,” she said.
The morning session is the usual welcome by Mayor Jim Strickland and his division directors to an audience of several hundred along with a formal presentation of planned city projects.
After a luncheon, the symposium includes an event called “A Seat At The Table,” which resembles speed dating.
“They will be able to ask questions about what they heard earlier that day, pitch their company and even ask about opportunities they didn’t hear about,” Massey said. “If they didn’t hear an opportunity from one of the divisions and they know there may be a need or a product or service that we procure, then they have an opportunity to directly face-to-face have a conversation with those division directors.”
The idea is to familiarize business owners who might otherwise find the bidding process too confusing.
“The procurement process is very formalized. It’s formalized for many reasons. It’s formalized not just for efficiency purposes but for legal purposes also, to ensure that the information is shared in a fair fashion,” Massey said.
“Normally when a project goes out it is bid out and then it is advertised and then the businesses have 10 days to respond. And then there is a period where you can ask questions. But those questions aren’t direct. They are collected and then responded to in that same advertised fashion,” she said.
The result can be that businesses miss a lot of information especially if they are smaller businesses that can’t devote a lot of time to the process or one person whose job it is to just watch for such contract opportunities.
“Quite frankly it’s not about just giving them information and knowledge – which is important and we have programming to do that,” Massey said. “But here we are putting the fish in front of them and saying, ‘This is it. This is the opportunity. Come get it.’ ”
City certification as a minority- or women-owned business is free and the city accepts certifications from Shelby County government and the Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority as well as several other minority business groups in reciprocal agreements.
The luncheon will feature FedEx Express president and CEO David L. Cunningham and a keynote speech by former Tennessee Titans player Eddie George about his own dive into the world of entrepreneurship after his playing days ended.
Shelby County Schools superintendent Dorsey Hopson also will invite those at the symposium to attend a similar event by the school system Thursday at the Shelby County Board of Education. The networking event, held from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., will feature one-on-one sessions and include city and county governments as well as Memphis Light Gas and Water Division, Memphis Medical District Collaborative and the airport authority.
Hopson will soon propose percentage goals for the school system’s use of minority businesses in the contracts it awards in specific areas.
The move to set goals follows the release of a disparity study late last year that confirmed specific racial disparities in the contracts awarded by the school system. The same kind of study led to the setting of similar goals for city and county government.