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Philadelphia raises goals for Blacks in construction

February 18, 2010

by Eric Mayes
Special to the NNPA from the Philadelphia Tribune

Liberty Builders’ all-Black crew performs the flat and structural concrete work on San Francisco’s new Emergency Communications Center in 1991. During the ‘90s, hundreds of Black families prospered because Black contractors organized, pushed and won City contracts and hired and trained their crews from the community – until 1998, when Blacks were locked out of construction in San Francisco. Bay View Publisher Willie Ratcliff is the owner of Liberty Builders.
Philadelphia (NNPA) – Taking a first step toward “creating an economy of inclusion,” Mayor Michael Nutter has unveiled his administration’s long anticipated Economic Opportunity Strategic Plan.

“Issues of inclusion are now first and foremost a critical part of our economic decision-making process at all levels,” he told a group of city officials and business owners who packed the mayor’s reception room for the announcement. “Poverty and unemployment disproportionately impact minorities in Philadelphia. That’s a fact. Therefore, growing more and larger minority-owned, women-owned and disabled-owned businesses, which generate jobs in neighborhoods, is absolutely critical to our future.”

The plan includes new goals for disadvantaged business participation in city contracts and a radical restructuring of the Office of Economic Opportunity, giving it greater oversight over the contracting process and eliminating its role in certifying disadvantaged businesses.

By July 2011, the mayor said, he would like to see 25 percent of the city’s spending on contracts going to disadvantaged businesses. That represents a 7.5 percent increase over 2009. Included in that goal is a 15 percent participation goal for minority-owned businesses — which breaks down to a range that hits highs of 14 percent participation for African-Americans, 6 percent for Hispanics, 4 percent for Asians and 1 percent for American Indians — 9 percent for women-owned businesses and 1 percent for disabled-owned businesses. Those figures in 2009 were 11.05 percent for minority -owned businesses, 6.44 percent for women-owned businesses and zero for disabled-owned businesses.

In terms of dollars, those contracts steered $77 million to minority-owned businesses and $45 million for women-owned businesses with $14,000 to disabled-owned businesses, out of a total $699 million spent on contracts in 2009.

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, with his new “economy of inclusion” initiative, is leading the way toward ending a nationwide lockout of Blacks in public works construction.
Each percentage point of increase represents between $50 million and $60 million in spending. Setting the goals, which were largely in line with those laid out by City Council for construction of the Pennsylvania Convention Center, was a very small part of last week’s announcement.

Perhaps more important, Nutter expanded the role of the OEO in the contracting process and eliminated its role in certifying participants.

He promised that by July 2011 the city would have 25 percent more certified businesses on its rolls. “With more companies on the city registry, city departmental managers or staff will no longer have the excuse that they can’t find a qualified company to do the work,” he said.

Effective March 1, the city will accept certification from a variety of outside sources and stop issuing its own certification.

Businesses certified through another agency will now rely on that for city business. Those without outside certification will be able to carry over their certification at least until the end of next year. Approximately 130 of 1,325 certified businesses have only city certification. Of that total, about 40 are set to expire over the next year.

Freed from certifying businesses, the OEO will now be able to take a more active oversight role. Nutter promised that every contract would be scrutinized with the aim of hitting the city’s participation goals.

“We’re now changing the automated contract information system to make sure that OEO review is an early checkpoint in the contracting process.” He said.

Just what the consequences would be for contracts that failed to meet the goal remained unclear. “I don’t have that right now,” said Kevin Dow, deputy commerce director.

In addition, by eliminating certification duties, Nutter said he hoped the agency could now provide more comprehensive business assistance to disadvantaged businesses. “OEO staff will devote itself to the more fruitful task of growing the number of small businesses and their fiscal and operational capacity,” he said.

Moving beyond city government, Nutter said he would impress the importance of inclusion on all area businesses and said he would also like to see more diversity in leadership at the top of corporations and in the unions that have largely been resistant to inclusion. “Forty years ago we fought to diversify the lunchrooms. Today we need to diversify the boardrooms,” he said.

The administration’s plan was lauded by several people Monday afternoon. Councilman W. Wilson Goode Jr., called the plan “credible.” “If I thought this plan was crap, I’d simply say it was crap,” he said. “I call it credible because it is.” Goode has long been an advocate for minority participation on City Council.

Similarly, Patricia Coulter, president and CEO of the Urban League of Philadelphia, said the plan was “robust” and that the shift would “elevate diversity and inclusion.”

Carl Singley, who served on the Mayor’s Advisory Commission on Construction Industry Diversity, said the plan was the culmination of a lot of effort. “It was better to do it right than to do it in haste,” he said. “This time they’ve done it right.”

NNPA, the National Newspaper Publishers Association, serves nearly 200 Black newspapers. Read more stories from the Black press at

2 thoughts on “Philadelphia raises goals for Blacks in construction

  1. Roger Clegg, Center for Equal Opportunity

    The mayor’s argument boils down to, “Since some groups have higher unemployment rates, members of those groups who own companies should be given contracting preferences.” This is so silly that he can’t really believe it; this is just racial politics.

    Look, it’s fine to make sure contracting programs are open to all, that bidding opportunities are widely publicized beforehand, and that no one gets discriminated against because of skin color, national origin, or sex. But that means no preferences because of skin color, etc. either–whether it’s labeled a “set-aside,” a “quota,” or a “goal,” since they all end up amounting to the same thing. Such discrimination is unfair and divisive; it costs the taxpayers money to award a contract to someone other than the lowest bidder; and it’s almost always illegal—indeed, unconstitutional—to boot (see 42 U.S.C. section 1981 and comments we submitted to the Colorado DOT here: ). Those who insist on engaging in such discrimination deserve to be sued, and they will lose.

  2. Clegg Roger


    Race or ethnicity can and should be considered wherever the market forces result in an unlevel playing field for citizens and businesses that are disadvantaged due to no fault of their own. If a community has a 40% Latino population, why shouldn't that translate into 40% utilization of Latino businesses? The problem is that your argument is disingenuous. You post all over the country about your "submitted comments" in Colorado and how everyone should have a level playing field. But when the status quo "level playing field" results in 2% Latino utilization, something isn't right.

    And once again – stop posting the exact same comment on boards around the country. Think if something new, please.


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