New York Is Open for Business

Gov. David Paterson seeks to bolster the empire state's financial footing while becoming the next big champion for minority business. Can he pull it off?

What impact has this trend had on minority business development?

When we came into office in 2007, only 5% of state contracts were going to minority and women firms—2.64% to women, 2.36% to minorities. Asians got 1% of contracts. Hispanics got 0.74%. African Americans get two-thirds of 1%. So, that’s why my mission has been the inclusion of minority and women businesses. The most frustrating thing is that New York finally has the leadership that insists on equality of opportunity in economic development and we don’t have enough businesses because they’ve either shut down or moved to other states.

So how does your administration create opportunities in this environment? Can you adopt a Maynard Jackson model for this millennium?

When I met Maynard Jackson, we talked for hours and he was telling me that if you’re indirect about it, it’s not going to happen. You cannot cloak MWBE as a small business program. So when we came into office, Gov. Spitzer signed Executive Order No. 8. But I still didn’t think many of the agency heads around the state got it. I thought it was becoming ceremonial by the lack of compliance among the agencies. Then about a year later they looked up and there was a new governor. Now there’s an understanding that we’re insisting on fairness in the distribution of procurement in a state that is 40% black, Hispanic, and Asian and 51.8% female.

If your administration’s goal is to increase minority involvement and equity in construction projects, will you have to continue to import companies or develop a program to help create new firms?

That’s a good question. I think that as these businesses get more business, they will grow; most of the huge entrepreneurs started as small businesses. So it’s creating that opportunity. And then the word is out: ‘Hey, New York is open for business again.’ So we’re hoping that the understanding of the capacity of the decision-making in government, and how it can affect emerging communities, is such that New York would attract business and people thinking about starting businesses. When that happens, you’ve got things going in the right direction.

Majority firms recognize that we’re asking for fairness [but to them] it’s about business. So, if the governor is saying we want fairness, it’s not because anybody has had an epiphany about being fair to your brothers and sisters of all colors and persuasions. It’s that fairness is now good for business. So you see a lot of these companies running all over the place trying to find minority subcontractors who will work with them. They want to let it be known that they will not be part of the continued obstacle that was created for qualified men and women who happen to be black to flourish in industry.

This story originally appeared in the May 2009 issue of Black Enterprise.

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