New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer has launched an initiative to help minority and women-owned business enterprises, or MWBEs, gain access to city contracts.

Known as “MWBE University,” the year-long series of workshops is designed to help such businesses obtain city certification, navigate the procurement process and gain access to government business.

According to Stringer, while city agencies are making important strides in delivering contracts to MWBEs, major gaps remain. Last year, New York awarded just over $1 billion in contracts to MWBEs, which represent only 4.9% of all awards.

NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer delivers remarks at City Hall.
"This is about fairness,” said New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer. Edwin J. Torres/Mayoral Photography Office

"We’re building on our office’s work and helping business owners navigate the city procurement process. This is about fairness,” said Stringer.

The year-long series of workshops will, for the first time, bring in representatives from such companies as IBM, CDW and Ricoh, as well as other businesses that contract with the city for legal, construction and accounting services.

Along with opening the doors to city contracting, the sessions will provide businesses with opportunities in contracting directly with the comptroller’s office.

The list of workshops include doing business with the city as an IBM, CDW or Ricoh partner, on Feb. 23; become a prequalified New York City auditor, March 23; capital, bonds and tax breaks for businesses affecting the city, May 25; doing business with the comptroller, July 13; what your business needs to know about prevailing wage, Aug. 17; and the future of MWBEs in the city, Dec. 14.

Late last year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill that let the city widen its opportunities to MWBEs by expanding the contract process to put the city closer to par with the state. Under the new legislation, the city can spend up to $150,000 on contracts with MWBEs that offer goods and services without making them endure a long and formal RFP and bidding process.

The law also lets the city consider a firm’s status as an MWBE when using the best-value procurement method. Under this method, the city can judge a bidder's record of complying with existing labor standards, maintaining harmonious labor relations and protecting worker health and safety.

Data from Stringer's most recent "Making the Grade" report show that since the letter-grade report started in 2014, annual spending with MWBEs increased by $208 million to $554 million in fiscal 2017. Also, more agencies received A and B grades than previously and compared with fiscal 2016, and grades increased at 13 agencies in fiscal 2017.

Overall, 42% of agencies realized grade increases in fiscal 2017. That year, the city awarded $21 billion total in goods and services to outside vendors. Of all contracts, just over $1 billion went to MWBEs. That, said Stringer, represents 4.9% of all awards, an uptick from 4.8% a year ago and a rise from 3.9% in fiscal 2014.

"At the end of the day, this is an economic development program and a jobs program,” Jonnel Doris, the Director of the City’s Office of MWBEs, told The Bond Buyer last month. “We want MWBEs to have a fair shot in doing business with the city.”

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