An open letter to county commissioners
Our county is facing an unparalleled time of economic upheaval and dubiety surrounding our elected and appointed officials. COVID-19 and the seemingly endless reports of local businesses closing their doors, officer-involved shootings, and rash of violence calls for us to take a step back and re-evaluate our priorities. This Commission has the opportunity to address and mitigate the societal impacts of poverty (such as economic empowerment, healthcare, education, crime, etc.) and now is the time for action.
It is no secret that the health of Black communities is disproportionally affected by COVID-19, but what this pandemic has also highlighted is the staunch disparities in minority businesses’ access to capital. As a result of COVID-19, Black-owned businesses have decreased by 31 percent compared to White-owned businesses that have decreased by 17 percent. This is particularly alarming because the great recession significantly diminished Black wealth with their median household wealth decreasing 53 percent between 2005-2009. Although the federal government has stepped in to alleviate some of the financial burdens small businesses are facing, large lending institutions, being the majority insurers of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) funds, are historically not a source of capital for Black owned businesses as they primarily receive funding from smaller lenders.
Local governments spend billions of dollars annually hiring contractors for goods and services, but most of these contracts go to White owned businesses. This, unfortunately, may not be news to you. In 2019, our city and county retained MGT of America Consulting, LLC to conduct a Minority, Women, and Small Business Enterprise Disparity Study for the City of Tallahassee, Leon County, and the Blueprint Intergovernmental Agency. The findings of this study are what we expected, minority, women, and small business enterprises continue to be underutilized with only 2.88 percent of minority firms receiving prime contracts with the city and 6.25 percent with the county. The findings from the study also highlighted the lack of appropriate data needed to fully analyze the subcontractor utilization rate outside of the construction category. This missing data is critical to fully understanding the disparities minority owned businesses face and without it our local government continues to willingly allow these injustices.
These racial, health, and economic disparities are further exacerbated by recurrent police brutality that has once again made national headlines. Millions of people across the world have learned of the killings of George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Aubery, David McAtee, Eric Garner, Sean Reed, Antwon Rose, Corey Jones, Stephon Clark, Tamir Rice and countless others. In Leon County, a recent police shooting has further distressed a Black community in crisis. Numerous studies have indicated a positive correlation between increased crime and high unemployment rates. The practice of over policing in minority communities creates a cycle of negative perceptions of the police as evidenced by the National Police Foundation, leading to increasingly violent interactions with the police, and disinvestments in communities. Criminal justice reform efforts must be undertaken and buttressed by economic interventions that aim to address the root causes of crime.
Too often we hear that Tallahassee is a tale of two cities. In your role, you have an opportunity to create an equitable playing field for our minority businesses and show the residents of Leon County that we are committed to justice and the chance to achieve the American dream. We take immense pride in the city we continue to call home. The same city in which we established and inspired other community leaders to join the Big Bend Minority Chamber of Commerce, which is dedicated to stimulating economic growth and development for minority owned business. We believe that this time is a moment in which we can do more than commit ourselves to studying the problems that face our community in regards to economic inclusion. It is for these reasons that we urge you to take five action steps expeditiously:
1) Pass an ordinance that mandates 30 percent of all city and county contracts be awarded to certified minority owned firms;
2) In partnership with the Big Bend Minority Chamber and a local lending institution that has a demonstrated history of commitment to the minority community and economic development, use Blueprint economic development dollars to develop microgrants and loans to lower the access to capital disparities that minority owned businesses face;
3) Develop targeted training programs based on the 2019 disparities study to increase minority business participation in city and county contracting;
4) Amend the purchasing card program to require a minimum 30 percent of the total p-card annual spend be with local minority owned businesses; and
5) Pledge time during the Commission’s annual planning retreats for the next 10 years to allow the Big Bend Minority Chamber of Commerce, and others committed to the work of minority economic empowerment, to provide you feedback from minority businesses as to the impact of your minority inclusionary policies.
Let me be frank, these are not new ideas and Leon County is woefully behind in taking the necessary steps to rectify the systemic inequalities that minority businesses continue to face. Now is the time. As the county is set to disburse federal funding from the CARES Act, we urge you to use the funds to support minority owned firms suffering from employment or business interruptions due to COVID-19 related business closures. Long term, local governments in Florida are also taking steps to overcome these systemic barriers. In Orange County, Florida they aim to ensure the inclusion of minority and women owned businesses by requiring contract compliance rates of 25 percent in construction, 26 percent in professional services, 10 percent in goods and 24 percent in services. Similarly, Hillsborough County has established an annual disadvantaged minority and disadvantaged women business enterprise goal of 20 percent for construction contracts.
Outside of Florida, other major cities are also committed to equity. Take for example cities such as Atlanta and Philadelphia. Well ahead of time, Atlanta has been a leader in actively promoting full and equal opportunities for everyone doing business with the city. For example, the City of Atlanta has set a goal of contracting at least 40 percent of the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport procurement opportunities to registered disadvantaged business enterprises. In Philadelphia, the city aims to fill at least 35 percent of all contracts through minority, women, or disabled-owned enterprises. Philadelphia also took it a step further by lowering barriers that have historically favored big contractors by offering assistance to smaller, minority-owned and women-owned firms before they even bid on projects.
In the words of Booker T. Washington, “In proportion as one renders service, he becomes great.” Our residents deserve better and you have the opportunity to facilitate these changes. Please know that we are happy to join you on this journey and provide any assistance we can. If you have any questions or if I can assist you in any way please do not hesitate to contact me at 850-216-1002 or email@example.com.
With kind regards,
Sean Pittman, BBMC Chairman. Antonio Jefferson, BBMC President