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Memphis minority spending yields benefits but questions about details remain

Brian Hampton acknowledged that it’s been a good year for his company, Network Construction. The owner of the small contracting company understands the plight most minority-owned business owners experience, including access to capital; but he said he’s been able to overcome many of the hurdles.

One of those ways is by taking advantage of contracts with the City of Memphis, as a certified vendor.

Recently, the City’s Office of Business Diversity and Compliance (OBDC) released its latest report highlighting increased spending with businesses like Hampton’s – minority and women-owned companies.

City leaders say that for 2019, their spending rose to 21.87 percent which equates to $73.36 million going to minority and women-owned businesses (MWBEs) compared to 20.27 percent or $56.9 million for 2018.

“Data is really important in the Strickland Administration,” said Joann Massey, Director of the Office of Business Diversity & Compliance. “The data allows us to accurately identify the disparity in order to implement the right strategy.

“Since being elected, Mayor Strickland has prioritized MWBE inclusion in city contract spend. Today we are demonstrating through our progress that it can be done. We will keep improving,” she said.

It’s something Hampton acknowledged has helped increase revenue for his company.

“I’ve been able to benefit from at least $100,000 from the city – maybe more – and I’m always bidding on contracts,” he said. “It’s a competitive but fair process. And it gives small businesses a shot at large contracts.”

Hampton said he’s acquired at least 10 contracts with the city. And while he doesn’t work exclusively with those entities, he said his status as a certified vendor for the city helps him attract additional clients.

The city has been intentional in helping minority and women business owners. In 2018, Strickland and his administration announced the 800 Initiative, an intensive program to empower minority-owned businesses in Memphis and increase equity in the city’s economy. Under the initiative, businesses like Hampton’s have benefited.

Yet despite the increased effort, there have been hiccups along the way.

In March, Strickland and his administration came under fire after their reported growth in minority and women-owned business spending was calculated using faulty data – data that didn’t account for more than $150 million in city contracts during the previous fiscal year.

City leaders said the numbers were miscalculated due to a clerical error and have since corrected their reporting process. They said they’re confident in the recently-released numbers and the direction the city is headed as it relates to growing MWBEs.

“Continuing to grow our small business and minority and women-owned businesses (MWBE) has been one of our top priorities. And for the last four years, we’ve worked intently with our Office of Business Diversity and Compliance to do so,” Mayor Stickland said in a written statement.

The department has also added additional resources to push MBWEs. In February, they launched a directory, Buy 901, that allows residents to access more than 600 businesses for free. The site directs consumers to everything from restaurants to construction, operated by minorities or women.

The recent report also highlighted the OBDC serving as a sponsor for Black Restaurant Week and hosting a ‘We Mean Business’ Symposium and ‘Seat at the Table Event’, specifically for MWBEs.

Additionally, executives from the development company responsible for the upcoming Loews Convention Center Hotel project have committed to spending 20 percent with MWBEs.

“We are headed in the right direction, but the devil is always in the details,” Memphis City Councilmember Martavius Jones said in response to the report.

“In unpacking these improved numbers, it is important for us to know the breakdown among black-owned businesses, women-owned businesses, and other minority-owned businesses,” he said.

While he’s optimistic in the growth, Jones wants to be sure that black-owned businesses aren’t getting the short end of the stick.

While the city’s MBWE report broke down spending based on industry, it did not note if it was a contract with a black-owned business or woman-owned.

“Going forward I advise more disaggregated data to be presented to this council,” Jones said.

But for Hampton, who is preparing to bid on a new government contract, he said he’s satisfied with the city’s efforts in growing minority-owned businesses.

“I’ve noticed the difference,” he said. “And when the city supports minority-owned businesses, it doesn’t just help my business. It helps the community.”

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