Since President Barack Obama signed the $787 billion, two-year economic stimulus bill, more than $174.9 billion has been disbursed (as of press time)âprimarily on lucrative infrastructure projects. Of the nearly 4,000 contracts that have been awarded, approximately 600 have gone to minority businesses, leaving black entrepreneurs fearing that theyâll be bypassed or overlooked when future contracts are handed out.
âNew day, same old fight,â says Richard Copeland, national president of the National Association of Minority Contractors (www.namcnational.org), the nonprofit trade association with chapters across the country. He adds that while his associationâs members are being very proactive in seeking contracting opportunities through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, many are finding the process both confusing and cumbersome.
âLawmakers are saying, âTrust the process; itâs coming,ââ says Copeland, who is also president and CEO of Minneapolis-based Thor Construction (No. 48 on the BE Industrial/Service Companies list with $103 million in revenues). âThatâs the story we always get: Itâs coming, its comingâthen, oh, shoot, itâs gone.â
Copeland is concerned about smaller firms that donât have the same size capacity, capability, and political connections as his. He believes that the federal government should include a mandate that stimulus contracts and funds are distributed equitably among businesses and communities as a condition for receiving funds.
The Small Business Administration (www.sba.gov) reports $5.9 billion contracting dollars have been allocated through the Recovery Act as of this summer, of which just over $1.2 billion or 20% has gone to small businesses, with $735 million (12.4%) to minority-owned businesses. âKeep in mind, the minority-owned category is a completely self-identified field with no certification by anyone and no specific reason for a firm to identify itself as one,â says SBA press office director Mike Stamler.
Rep. Edolphus âEdâ Towns (D-N.Y.), who chairs the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee (http://oversight.house.gov), says heâs âconcerned and really disappointedâ by what he considers the inadequate level of minority business participation in the stimulus process, as well as his allegation that large corporations only use minority businesses as subcontractors to win awards, but then donât put them to work.
âWe need large corporations to know that itâs not business as usual and weâre going to do this differently,â says Towns, who hopes to get legislation passed that would improve the state and local governmentâs ability to track stimulus dollars. âIf they donât abide by the rules and allow everyone to participate on a level playing field, theyâll be penalized.â
âThe demonstrable effect [positive or negative] of the bill with minority business is not significant at this stage of the game,â says Rep. Gregory Meeks of New York.
Leon Richardson, CEO of ChemicoMays, a Detroit-based chemical management company, says he is constantly communicating with local lawmakers and other government officials. Close to 60% of his business is generated by those within the automotive industry, one of the economyâs most visible victims. âItâs very helpful to make them aware of whatâs happening,â says Richardson, who is also chairman of the National Association of Black Automotive Suppliers (www.nabas.org). âThe industry and the government were first concerned about the larger supplier. Theyâre now starting to focus on small and minority suppliers who were missed at the very beginning.â