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Fort Worth taking another look at minority contracting procedures

The city’s economic development staff is expected to receive the go-ahead from the City Council this month to reorganize a long-standing advisory committee that oversees how effective the city is in attracting minority- and women-owned businesses to bid on city contracts and projects.

Being proposed is expanding a nine-member committee where each post is appointed by the mayor and the council member for their area to a 16-member panel with representatives from the local chambers of commerce, various contracting associations and a few city departments that frequently contract work.

Robert Sturns, the city’s economic development director, who also oversees its minority- and women-owned business efforts, said the current committee has recently had a lot of turnover and now has four vacancies. He said the committee is not working as well as it should. The council is scheduled to consider a resolution changing the committee Oct. 18.

The challenge we face with them is they are not in the procurement realm.

Robert Sturns, Fort Worth’s economic development director

“The challenge we face with them is they are not in the procurement realm,” Sturns said.

Among other things, the committee will address finding ways to better connect prime contractors with Fort Worth minority- and women-owned businesses and to see if the ordinance regarding how city contracts are awarded needs revamping. The group will also look at city procurement.

According to Councilwoman Kelly Allen Gray, the city has done a better job of awarding contracts to women-owned businesses, but minority-owned enterprises are still “systematically not receiving contracts from the city of Fort Worth. They are bidding; they are not receiving.”

This issue occurs mostly in contracts awarded to contractors who then hire subcontractors. Allen said those contractors are reaching out and showing a good-faith effort, but minority-owned businesses are not responding because they don’t feel they’ll get a fair shake, she said. Instead, some of those businesses are seeking work outside Fort Worth, she said.

“This is a common theme shared amongst” some minority-owned businesses, Gray said. She said revamping the ordinance could open doors to more minorities garnering contracts at home. Currently, she said, the way contracts are awarded and the contractors hired do “not reflect that diversity that’s important to me. We as a city will be creating diversity.”

Closing the gap

The city began looking into its efforts in 1993 when the council established the Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Advisory Committee. The name was changed to the Minority and Women Business Enterprise Advisory Committee in 2008. In 2009, after a disparity study, the city established goals that called for 15 percent or 25 percent of city contracts be awarded to minority- and women-owned businesses, depending on contract type.

But reaching those goals has been difficult, in part because so much work is going on in North Texas and fewer companies are available to choose from, and fewer are certified to bid on city work, Sturns said.

Sturns said he wants to find where the gaps are and determine the best next steps.

It’s a good time to do that because the city is funding half of the $450 million Multipurpose Arena being built at the Will Rogers complex and many subcontractors and vendors will be needed. The developer, Event Facilities Fort Worth, has committed to meeting the city’s goals of hiring minority- and women-owned businesses.

Already, Event Facilities’ contractor, the Beck Group, has held two meetings, and the city has hosted two events, for potential bidders and vendors, Sturns said.

In addition, more opportunities will come as the city winds through 2014 bond program projects and those to come if a bond program is approved in 2018, he said.

The reorganized committee will also help in the next Availability and Disparity Study, currently planned for 2018, the city said. The last study was done in 2008. Such studies are legal instruments that allow cities to establish goal-based programs for minority- and women-owned business enterprises.

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