If a group of business leaders succeed with the initiative they announced Tuesday morning, increased minority business participation within the public and private sectors of Memphis and Shelby County will become a front-burner issue.
Determined to affect what they called “the disproportionate number of contracts awarded to minority and women businesses over the last twenty years,” the group sounded an alarm at a press conference at the National Civil Rights Museum.”
Leading up to Tuesday’s announcement, the group made two backdrop observations:
1. Census data from 2007 finds that black-owned businesses in the Memphis metro area received one percent of business receipts in the Memphis MSA.
2. Although the City has improved MWBE prime participation since the 1994 Disparity Study, there still remains “significant disparity between the utilization and availability of MWBEs (minority and women business enterprises.)
“Our goal is to spotlight these disparities in a way that brings about swift and significant change,” said Ron Redwing, President, 100 Black Men of Memphis. “If Memphis is to rise and become a ‘world-class’ community, all of its citizens must be active participants in its economy.”
The coalition’s aim is to increase the number of minority and women business contracts in Memphis and Shelby County over the next five years, aligning its efforts with the City of Choice and Blueprint for Prosperity initiatives. They have committed to target this change based on a focused agenda carried out through dialogue, catalytic partnerships and direct action.
Citing what is dubbed as the “lack of accountability and passive oversight in the awarding of contracts in the Memphis MSA,” the group’s way forward relative to their concerns includes meeting with Mayor AC Wharton, Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell, Memphis Chamber President and Chief Executive Officer, Phil Trenary, Shelby County Schools Superintendent, Dorsey Hopson and Memphis Tomorrow.
“We are sending a clear signal: We can no longer afford to do business as usual in this community,” said Darrell Cobbins, president and chief executive officer, Universal Commercial. “We have come together to refocus our local priorities on greater economic investments in the African-American community.”
Response from Mayor Wharton
In response to a request from The New Tri-State Defender, Mayor Wharton issued this statement:
“The resources the City spends in contracting and procurement opportunities with minority and women-owned businesses is an issue we have tried to improve in a number of ways. We have created a volunteer board of local business executives and community leaders to review and critique our contracting practices. We have created online services that make it easier for potential businesses to review existing contracts and contracting opportunities offered through City government. We have expanded our outreach efforts to educate potential business partners.
“And while we have seen successes in a number of our major projects during my term as Mayor, I must say that the criticism of our numbers is fair in that we have been unable to sustain some of those advances and better diversify the number of minority and women-owned businesses that are contracted by the City.
“I accept this criticism hoping that the attention brought to this matter will inspire local minority and women-owned businesses, especially those who offer professional services and goods and supplies, to initiate the process of becoming a vendor with the City. I have found that far too many of these businesses that actually offer what we seek have not attempted to become a part of our network or bid for upcoming opportunities.
“This is where I want to encourage those who are interested in this subject to promotememphistn.gov/business as the one-stop shop where they can get more information on how to do business with the City of Memphis.
“Working together, we can move the needle in the right direction, and build on the successes that we have realized.”
Response from Shelby County Mayor Luttrell
“We’ve made strides to ensure locally-owned small businesses do work with Shelby County Government.
“While progress has been made for the small businesses owners, economic development efforts specifically for minority-owned businesses have been a challenge.
“We have, through the years, worked closely with Mr. Redwing and other minority-owned business leaders.
“We look forward to their recommendations and suggestions about how minority-owned businesses can work more closely with us at Shelby County Government.”
‘This is about legacy and sustainability for generations to come.’
Noting concerns shared over the last few weeks from peers and community members, Patrick “Trey” Carter, president, Olympic Career Training Institute, said he now is propelled to “raise my voice in the conversation to move the needle on minority business participation in this region. I cannot afford to keep silent on this issue. This is about legacy and sustainability for generations to come.”
Redwing that there must be a confrontation of the barriers of doing business in the public and private sectors to ensure that the real entry of conducting business is accessible and the opportunities for support are optimized.
“In addition, we must tailor new incentives and supports to disenfranchised black businesses,” said Redwing in the announcement of Tuesday’s media briefing.
Beverly Robertson, president of the National Civil Rights Museum, said, “I am concerned about the long term economic viability and sustainability of minority businesses in this market. Sustainability is about jobs and opportunity. We must be strategic and intentional about the decisions we make now because such decisions will certainly affect the future of the city and all its