Davenport Looks for Ways to Help Minorities Win City Contracts

Kurt Allemeier, Quad-City Times (Davenport, Iowa), June 19, 2009

Breaking down large contracts so smaller, minority-owned companies can successfully bid for them, and creating a micro-loan fund are among recommendations made in a study of Davenport’s bidding process.

Davenport is the first Iowa city to review its purchasing practices related to minorities. The total cost of the study was just under $150,000, with the state of Iowa picking up $75,000 of the total.

Davenport’s Affirmative Action Advisory Committee will present the study, by Oakland, Calif.-based Mason Tillman Associates, to the Davenport City Council at its July 15 meeting.

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The study, more than 200 pages long, makes 35 recommendations on how to open up bidding to more minority-owned businesses. Staff is considering which five of the 35 recommendations to implement as soon as possible, Redmond Jones, Davenport affirmative action officer, said as the advisory committee reviewed the report Thursday.

Sub-contractor recommendations led the list of possible changes that could be made to help minority-owned businesses, according to the study. Among them were breaking large procurements into smaller contracts where feasible, establish a direct purchase program for supplies or equipment, so that a subcontractor only needs to provide labor, establish an apprentice program on construction contracts and establish an owner-controlled insurance program.

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“They want you to compete with a large contractor, but with the cost of financing and insurance, that is a big problem,” he said. “We need help.”

The study notes a number of anecdotal problems that minority-owned companies face with city contracts, including being held to a higher standard than their non-minority counterparts, difficulty breaking into the contractor community, problems meeting the city’s contractor licensing test.

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“Our biggest job is to educate minority contractors and advocate for minority contractors,” he [Sydney Ethridge, of the Minority Enterprise Construction Council] said. “We need to move forward aggressively.”

He said the MECC will teach how to bid for contracts, provide information needed in the bidding process and make sure they have all the documentation needed for a successful bid.

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