PhillyInc: Philly slowly increasing contracts with minorities

General contractors picked along North Broad Street in 2009.

Slowly, the City of Philadelphia appears to be making progress in increasing the amount of contracts awarded to minority and other disadvantaged small businesses.

In a recent report, the city said it had achieved a 28 percent minority-participation rate for all contracting opportunities in the fiscal year ended June 30. That marks the second straight year city bean counters could make that claim, 3 percentage points higher than the goal Mayor Nutter set two years ago.

Though the percentage did not change, the dollar amount of contracts won by all disadvantaged businesses rose to $280 million for the 12 months ended June 30, compared with $238 million for the previous year.

Plus, the city's registry of businesses certified as 51 percent owned by a minority, woman, disabled, or disadvantaged owner has grown to 2,040, up from 1,334 in January 2010.

As impressive as that is amid economic and budgetary stress, the city's Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO) noted that there remained some roles for which the city has identified no certified minority contractors, including supplying water-treatment chemicals, petroleum products, or pharmaceutical supplies, and providing certain professional services.

The total amount of those "no opportunity" contracts was $161 million in the last fiscal year, the OEO said. That's a significant part of the $1.2 billion in contracts award- ed to for-profit vendors by the city, quasi-public agencies, and contractors on federally funded projects in the city.

If 25 percent of those no-opportunity contracts were to go to disadvantaged businesses, that would mean about $40 million more for the minority-business community.

Has the effort to boost such participation plateaued? Notes the report: "We still are challenged by subcontractors that are not ready to submit quotes to primes in a timely manner and some primes' unwillingness to build relations in anticipation of future bidding opportunities."

City-owned Philadelphia Gas Works indicated it awarded $12.7 million to disadvantaged businesses from procurement and contracting efforts for the fiscal year ended Aug. 31 - about $300,000 more than the year before, but good enough for a participation rate of only 14.7 percent. Still, with projects ahead such as the $6.4 billion expansion of Philadelphia International Airport, there would seem to be plenty of other chances for minority businesses to bid for city work.


Contact Mike Armstrong

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