Recently the Broward County Commission held a workshop to discuss the 2010 Disparity Study. The purpose of the study was to examine the past and current status of women and minority-owned businesses in Broward County.
The NERA economic consulting firm was hired to determine if current race and gender neutral programs have eliminated discrimination.
After a two-year preliminary investigation, NERA did find statistical and anecdotal evidence of discrimination against women and minority businesses in Broward County's relevant market area. The study also noted that the availability of women and minority businesses was substantially lower than in a commercial marketplace free from discrimination. There was also a significant gap in earnings.
This information will not be ignored. I plan to be aggressive and persistent in bringing about change that will open up increased business opportunities for minorities and women and, at the same time, bring economic development and jobs to Broward County. Unfortunately, NERA consultants say they need more time to adequately collect the statistical data necessary to analyze the effectiveness of Broward County's current program. The commission has instructed county staff to develop a time line that will be followed to reach a solid conclusion.
As we collect more data, I am pursuing an action plan that will include the following:
• That the County Attorney and County Administrator develop and implement a zero-tolerance policy against discriminatory practices within the procurement process, including county staff and with vendors hired by the county.
• Develop a community outreach program that will adequately inform women and minority business
owners about the financial opportunities available through government contracts and encourage minority participation.
• Insure that women and minority business owners are paid immediately or within a reasonable amount of time by the county and/or subcontractors that hire them. This process needs to be monitored and audited to make sure that small business owners don't suffer financially from big companies failing to pay them in a timely manner for work that they've completed.
• Develop a bond assistance program for women and minority business owners. Often small businesses are unable to compete for government contracts, because of the cost of bond protection for these projects.
It is my belief that discrimination is not only a detriment to women and minority-owned business owners, but also jeopardizes the county's economic future and dampens the proud American spirit which relies on the growth and nurturing of small businesses.
An action plan with a time line for completion will come before the commission for review the first week in January. I will keep you posted on the outcome.
It is in our nation's best interest that everyone is given a fair chance to compete. Strengthening women and minority-owned business will make us far more competitive with the rest of the world; we certainly cannot afford to leave anyone behind.
Dale V.C. Holness is Broward County Commissioner for District 9.