Minority and women contractors better get ready, Mayor David Briley says, because opportunities for work with Metro are coming.
Briley spoke Thursday during the 2018 Business Symposium, hosted every year by Belmont Law School. At this year’s event, Bloomberg Associates and the Metro Nashville Business Assistance Office teamed up to put on a workshop for minority and women contractors on working with Metro and getting ahead in business.
The workshop preceded some of the work Briley’s team will be doing in the coming months to make it easier for minority businesses to register with the city and bid for work, he said.
“Frankly, there are too many acronyms,” Briley said. “There’s too much lingo in your world and it makes it easier to get bogged down in bureaucracy. We’re pushing through that lingo. … It shouldn’t be who you know that results in the contracts you have. It should be who is the best for the job.”
Prior to the workshop, Bloomberg and the Business Assistance Office surveyed 31 minority-owned contractors and 70 prime contractors (who turn to those minority-owned firms for sub-contracting work) on their experience working with Metro and with each other. Briley said the results will inform his administration’s planning going forward.
“We need something from you, too,” Briley said to the crowd Thursday. “Be ready for us. You’ve got to have the capacity to be on the other end of the equation.”
There is a clear discrepancy between the two surveys: On one side, minority-owned subcontractors said they feel they are being unfairly overlooked. On the other side, prime contractors said there aren’t enough qualified firms to meet Metro’s minority-contractor requirements.
One survey asked minority-owned firms about challenges they’ve met placing bids, working with prime contractors and registering as SMWSDVBE — small, minority, woman or service-disabled veteran owned businesses. The responses reflected that most business owners had little trouble getting certified, and most actually felt they had the necessary funds and paperwork to complete a project.
“Many of the primes do not care if they meet goals or not and if they do request a bid, they will only ask for a bid with one to three days to respond. They will also ask for a bid and then never contact us again or on occasion will use our company name. We will attend pre-construction meetings and never get a call back to actually do the work.”
“The prime contractors do not want to use anyone but their ‘buddies.’ So they send a request via certified or as a blanket email (which normally goes to spam) and only give me a few days. If it goes to spam, I may not see it until it is already bid.”
“I may get the job if (my rate) is very low; it it’s close, it’s given to another contractor.”
On the other side, the prime contractors surveyed said minority-owned firms were often unqualified, lacked the necessary funds, and were less reliable than non-minority-owned firms. Over 82 percent of respondents said there were not enough qualified minority-owned contractors in the market to satisfy their needs. When asked what percentage of minority-owned firms they hired were qualified to handle the work, 34 percent of respondents said under 10 percent were qualified.
A majority of prime contractors also said minority-owned firms charged more for their work.
Over 75 percent of prime contractors said they’d be willing to mentor small or minority-owned firms if it were an option, and several mentioned in comments that Metro should implement a mentorship program.
Mentoring may be one solution to these discrepancies. Communication is a big takeaway from the survey, said Jack Callahan, a partner at accounting firm Cohn Rezneck and a member of the Bloomberg Associates panel who helped put the survey together.
He told the Nashville Business Journal that Metro can help by streamlining and consolidating approval processes, both for subcontractors and prime contractors. He said the city could also continue to hold forums like the workshop this week, allowing minority business owners to network with prime contractors, banks and insurance agencies.
Ultimately, minority and women-owned contractors have to “put their business suits on,” Callahan said.
“We have to get people out of the mentality that they’re just the head of a contracting firm,” said David Cayemitte, CEO of the Minority Business Development Institute and who sat on the Bloomberg panel. “They’re CEOs.”
Briley reinforced the need to keep patronage out of contract deals, but Cayemitte said minority-owned firms need to get out into the business community in order to make waves.
“Coming to this event is way more valuable for them than anything they might have done in the field today,” he said.