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Monday, September 26, 2022

Santa Clara County to study public contract disparities

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Santa Clara County wants to level the playing field for minority-owned businesses that have no skin in the public contractor game.

The county plans to conduct a vendor diversity study to examine how the process can be improved. It will collect data to review how businesses are selected for county contractor jobs and analyze it for discriminatory practices.

Small businesses—minority-owned, women, LGBTQ and disabled veterans companies—will be asked to share their experiences through one-on-one interviews, meetings, surveys and an interactive website. Information about the study is available online in multiple languages and virtual business engagement meetings will also be translated in Chinese, Spanish, Tagalog and Vietnamese.

Virtual business forums will take place in August and September, with the first session today. The meetings will be hosted by Florida-based consulting firm MGT, with offices in Sacramento. County staff will not be present and vendor feedback will remain anonymous to encourage honest dialogue. The county aims to complete the study by February 2023.

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Santa Clara County currently doesn’t maintain data on the percentage of its contracts with minority-owned businesses, Gene Clark, chief procurement officer for the county, told San José Spotlight. He said this information will be key to understanding where the barriers to entry are for minority-owned businesses. 

“We know there’s opportunity out there for them to have more contracts, but you need good data,” he said. “One of the things I’m hopeful for is once we see success, it’s going to domino.”

The county has reached out to local chambers of commerce and business associations like the Minority Business Consortium to compile lists of small, minority-owned businesses to interview.

Two years ago, the group completed its own disparity study on the county’s contractor hiring process and encouraged the county to do a similar study based on its findings, said Walter Wilson, co-founder and CEO of the Minority Business Consortium.

“We knew there was discrimination in contracting in the county of Santa Clara whether intentional or not,” Wilson told San José Spotlight.

According to the consortium’s study, from 2012 to 2020, the county awarded 107 capital construction contracts valued at $570 million to 52 primary contractors. Of these, only six—12%—were minority owned, receiving 16% of the total dollars.

For minority businesses to be targeted for government contracts, Wilson said the state requires a disparity study showing they aren’t able to fairly compete.

Wilson said Santa Clara County has to use an equity lens in contracting. He said hundreds of millions of dollars are at stake that should be going to local businesses. Allowances need to be made when requesting bids, because small business don’t have the bandwidth to compete with large companies that devote departments to new projects, he said.

Dennis King, executive director of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Silicon Valley, said his chamber partners with the county and San Jose to help minority-owned businesses, but the process is difficult. By establishing what minority business contracts exist, local governments can build toward future milestones, he said.

“The status quo is not geared to open itself up to new competition,” he told San José Spotlight. 

King said contractors want to know where opportunities exist and the size of the projects. These factors determine if they need to work with the general contractor like a painter subcontracting with a builder. He’s encouraged by the county and city undergoing vendor diversity studies.

“It has been one of the more controversial and overlooked areas for a long time,” he said, “but as the COVID clouds dissipate, there will be more and more opportunities. It’s a good time to reevaluate where we’re going as a community.”

Wilson hopes the disparity study helps shift the workflow, but said implementation will be crucial. Billions of dollars could come back into local communities and that would change the landscape, he said.

“If done right, this disparity study will open up the floodgates to bring minority-owned businesses into the county’s contract environment in a real way,” he said.

To learn more about the diversity study, visit countyofsantaclaradisparitystudy.com. To participate in the business forums and find business opportunities, subscribe to the vendor newsletter at sccprc.org.

Contact Lorraine Gabbert at lorrainegabbertsjspotlight@comcast.net.

The post Santa Clara County to study public contract disparities appeared first on San José Spotlight.

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