Minority business owners face barriers in doing business with the state, study confirms

THE PANEL—A. Bruce Crawley, Kerry Kirkland, Doris Carson Williams and Judy McNeil. (Photo by Diane I. Daniels)

by Diane I. Daniels, For New Pittsburgh Courier

Information, concerns and suggestions flowed openly during the June 6 Small and Diverse Business Forum hosted by Philadelphia-based AmeriHealth Caritas. One of three in a series of small and diverse business town hall forums occurring throughout Pennsylvania, the aim was to address access to capital among other challenges for small and minority-owned businesses in the state and region.

Nearly 90 attendees were on hand at the University of Pittsburgh’s William Pitt Union during the two panels moderated by A. Bruce Crawley, APR, MJ, president, CEO and principal owner of Millennium 3 Management Inc.

Addressing the 2018 Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Disparity Study and the array of available resources in the area, panelists on the first panel were Kerry Kirkland, deputy secretary for Diversity, Inclusion and Small Business Opportunities, Pa. Department of General Services; Doris Carson Williams, president and CEO, African American Chamber of Commerce of Western Pennsylvania; and Judy McNeil, director of the Diversity Business Resource Center, Riverside Center for Innovation.

Undertaking legislative and financial issues were on the docket for the second panel, consisting of state Reps. Ed Gainey and Jake Wheatley, Professor John Wallace Jr., Ph.D., University of Pittsburgh; and Ron Baldwin, director, Supplier Management and Diversity, AmeriHealth Caritas.

Kirkland described the Disparity Study as one of the most comprehensive studies in the state and possibly the nation because of the inclusion of state and federal programs.

Kirkland said the findings of the study confirm that small, diverse businesses owned by minorities, women, veterans, disabled veterans, individuals with disabilities, and members of the LGBT community face barriers in their attempts to do business with the state. Kirkland admitted that he wasn’t surprised by the study’s findings.

The primary focus of the study looked at the disparities between the percentage of contract dollars that Department of General Services and PennDOT spent with different groups of SDBs, DBEs and DBs during the study period of July 1, 2011 to June 30, 2016 and the percentage of contract dollars that those businesses would be expected to receive based on their availability to perform specific types and sizes of prime and subcontracts.

Williams and McNeil outlined services provided by their organizations. The Chamber’s mission is to continuously improve business and professional opportunities for African American business owners and professionals.

The Chamber seeks to advance economic parity for the African American business community by ensuring full participation in the public and private sectors throughout the region, guided by the core values of equity in opportunity, economic advancement, self-sufficiency and entrepreneurial excellence.

RCI is a provider of low-cost leasing and a wide variety of services like consulting, office support, technology training programs, aid in commercial real estate transactions and business plan preparation. The company’s mission is to engage in activities that cultivate a healthy environment for the region’s entrepreneurs and small businesses to prosper.

Committed to improving conditions for MWDBEs in the commonwealth, Gainey and Wheatley agree that more than conversations must occur in order to create change. “It seems like there are time frames when we have these conversations about breaking open the doors for minority and disadvantaged businesses and contractors and we have these same ideas. But it’s not the ideas, it’s the implementation and follow through,” Wheatley said.

Wheatley invited entrepreneurs present in the room to attend the annual Small Business Minority and Women-owned “Lobby Day” that takes place in Harrisburg in February. “We want this issue to stay in people’s minds,” he said.

Gainey pointed out that it is all about will and intent. “First, the will has to be there in order for the intent to be met. It’s not always about the person but the system. I have learned that if you want to move things you have to move it through the system. The reality is, that the will comes from the top. So, the question is, how do we get there?”

To move things forward, Gainey suggested that business owners from all corners of the state meet on a quarterly basis with Governor Tom Wolf to discuss what is needed in the community to gain access to capital and to address other needs. “We need to have conversations with the leader so that the conversation does not flow up but the procedures flow down so some of the system can change based on what the leader wants from the top,” Gainey said.

Referring to the existing Pitt Community Engagement Center in Homewood and the upcoming one in the Hill District, Wallace suggested that universities should get more involved in city neighborhoods providing resources to strengthen communities.

A part of AmeriHealth Caritas for over a decade, Baldwin is credited for developing the organization’s diversity program from the ground up. His biography states that he developed strategies and metrics to grow and improve the program which rose diversity spending from three percent of total spending in 2010 to 10 percent in 2016.

Baldwin discussed AmeriHealth Caritas’ Mentor Protégé Program. The program provides minority-owned businesses with the tools and guidance needed to grow and become stronger, more vibrant partners.

AmeriHealth Caritas labels its organization as one of the nation’s leaders in health care solutions for those most in need. Operating in 11 states and the District of Columbia, it serves more than five million Medicaid, Medicare, and Children’s Health Insurance Program members through its integrated managed care products, pharmaceutical benefit management and specialty pharmacy services, and behavioral health services. The company is a mission-driven organization with more than 35 years of experience serving low-income and chronically ill populations.

 

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