Leaders present proposals to city, county for helping Black-owned businesses

By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer

Black businesses need the help of city and county governments so that they could realize equity essential to their development and survival. That message was presented by representatives of two local business organizations in a list of proposals that was hand-delivered in front of City Hall.

“We all know that if Black businesses are flourishing, then all business can flourish,” said Antonio Jefferson, president of the Big Bend Minority Chamber. “Tallahassee is an All-American city and it’s time now for Tallahassee to continue that mantra of being an All-American city by supporting these policies.”

Jefferson was one of several speakers at a press conference where City Commissioner Elaine Bryant and County Commissioner Nick Maddox were presented the policy proposals. The proposals is the result of a Moving Forward town hall meeting that BBMC and the Capital City Chamber of Commerce participated in.

County Commissioner Nick Maddox told a group of Black business leaders that he will sheppard their proposals for better economic opportunities to the board.
Photo by St. Clair Murraine

Among the list of 10 proposals, the groups want the commissions to pass an ordinance that requires city and county to give a minimum of 25 percent of its business to certified minority owned companies. They also want the governments to break up large contracts for professional services to facilitate greater minority business participation.

Making a case for the proposals to be addressed urgently, attorney Mutaqee Akbar, one of the business leaders, who participated in the town hall meeting, pointed to glaring discrepancies in median income. The average White family makes $171,000 annually compared to $17,000 for Black families. The numbers haven’t changed since the 1960’s, Akbar said.

Jefferson said both governments should move to create an infusion of $7.5 million to help Black businesses.

“As we move forward if we are going to build and grow the capacity needed for these businesses we are going to have to have that infusion of cash to make that a reality,” he said.

Peter Okonkwo, owner of Tallahassee-based Spectra Engineering and Research, Inc., said he could relate to what the groups are asking the goverment to do. What they are asking for is not unreasonable compared to what he’s seen when doing business in Orlando, Jacksonville and Tampa.
He suggested that recent unrest caused by racial inequities might be the spark that drives the local governments to act.

Antonio Jefferson, president of the Big Bend Minority Chamber, said his group and other business leaders will keep pushing for city and county governments to make a better deal for Black sub-contractors.
Photo by St. Clair Murraine

“The mood is different countrywide otherwise it would be business as usual,” he said. “Right now the majority of people (the commissioners) are looking at this thing with opened minds.”

Bryant, chair of the Inter-governmental Agency, applauded the groups for bringing the proposals.

“We do know as Black businesses do better, they will grow and consequently our community will grow when we work together,” said Bryant, promising to seek her peers’ support for the proposals. “This advocacy is a great example of what happens when we work together.

“The policies that are being considered will go a long way to add relative content to the on-going discussions that we are all having at City Hall.”

Providing economic opportunities has been on his agenda going back to 2010 when he campaigned for office, said Maddox. Timing is important to producing what the groups are asking for, he said.

Maddox added that he will push for workshops to consider the proposals. He also encouraged proponents of the recommendations to stay on government leaders to see them through instead of losing them in procedure.

“Apply pressure,” he said. “Let those elected officials and those policy maker know that this is a priority; not just for one person; not just for the chamber, but the community. If they don’t listen apply pressure and if they don’t listen, apply more pressure. You can’t let up.”
That’s not something the groups appear willing to do.
“We are laser-focused on this issue and we continue to demand,” Jefferson said. “As the city and county governments reopen, we are going to be at county commission meetings (and) we are going to be at city commission meetings. We are going to continue to meet and dialog on this because it can’t get lost.”

1. Develop and implement a required pre-bid training for Prime Contractors and Black owned Businesses to promote joint ventures on contracts exceeding $2 million.
2. Create a policy to break up large contracts for professional services to facilitate greater minority business participation.
3. Require a report on Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) spending and participation at every City and County Commission meeting.
4. Pass an ordinance that requires all city and county contracts to use a minimum of 25 percent minority participation subcontracting to certified minority owned companies.
5. In partnership with the BBMC, CCCC, and Florida A&M University Credit Union, use Blueprint or CARES Act funds to develop microgrants and loans program to lower the access to capital disparities that black-owned businesses face.
6. Amend the purchasing card policy to require an annual minimum of 30% of the total dollars spent be to local black-owned businesses.
7. Update the Disparity Study to include 2018-2019 spending availability and P-Card Purchases, to substantiate the increase in minority spending goal.
8. Update the Disparity Study to substantiate Higher Aspirational Goals for MBE participation.
9. Hire additional employees within the Office of Economic Vitality (OEV) to assist in Diversity Monitoring and Integrity Monitoring for all applicable city/county contracts, to ensure that all contractors are working with diverse vendors to meet or exceed aspirational goals.
10. Hire a Consultant to serve as a Construction Integrity Monitor for all construction contracts. The monitor will work closely with OEV from the pre-bid stage throughout the life of the project to ensure that every effort to utilize MBE firms is met. The consultant will report directly to the commission.

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