By GREGORY ZELLER //
Albany is looking to expand the reach of New York’s successful MWBE Program.
While current state law attaches specific “utilization” goals to the awarding of state contracts, proposed legislation would tweak the rules to include municipal contracts funded by the state – meaning counties, towns and other jurisdictions that funnel state monies into local projects would also have to meet minority- and women-owned business enterprise quotas.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the program reauthorization and expansion plan Monday, the first major upgrade of the Empire State Development Corp.’s MWBE outreach efforts since 2014, when the governor increased MWBE goals for state contracting from 20 to 30 percent.
All told, state-certified MWBEs have won more than $10.4 billion in state contracts since 2011. The new legislation, which is included in the governor’s FY2019 Executive Budget plan, looks to best that by “leveraging the largest pool of state funding in history to combat systemic discrimination and create new opportunities for MWBE participation at every level,” according to the governor’s office.
“We continue to work to increase access and opportunities to success for minority- and women-owned businesses,” Cuomo said Monday. “These actions will break down barriers to success and empower these business owners to help fuel our economy and move this great state forward.”
The governor’s plan expands Albany’s “discretionary purchasing threshold” to $400,000 and provides “bidding credits” to MWBE prime contractors for certain construction projects – legislative changes designed to “increase opportunities for MWBE primes to win that first project,” according to the governor’s office.
The plan also proposes the creation of a Workforce Diversity Program to establish workforce-participation goals for contractors, including utilizing women and minorities as employees on state projects.
To safeguard the program and deter MWBE-related contracting schemes, Cuomo is also calling for specific new fraud misdemeanors and felonies to be added to the State Penal Law.
The proposed package of minority- and women-owned business enterprise proposals “builds on the success of the MWBE program and will continue to expand economic opportunities for all,” noted New York Sen. James Sanders Jr. (D-Jamaica), chairman of the State Senate Task Force on MWBE.
“Our economy is strongest when everyone participates,” Sanders said in a statement.
That’s been the mantra of the state’s MWBE Program, which true to Cuomo’s call has seen utilization rates increase steadily since 2011. In FY2017, the rate of MWBEs participating in state contracts increased to 27.2 percent, with more than $2.2 billion in state contracts going to minority- and women-owned business enterprises.
That’s both the highest one-year MWBE utilization rate and the highest one-year awarded-contract dollar amount of any state in the nation, according to Cuomo’s office.
Other Cuomo Administration efforts to support minority and women business owners include 2014’s Bridge to Success Loan Program, which has invested upwards of $20 million in short-term business-starter loans for certified MWBEs, and the NYS Surety Bond Assistance Program, a circa-2012 effort to provide technical and financial assistance to MWBEs and other small businesses in search of surety bonding.
Empire State Development Corp., Albany’s main economic-development engine, now boasts a certified MWBE directory of more than 8,600 firms, “one of the largest listings in the nation,” according to Cuomo’s office.
While the directory and the support programs sound like major advantages for only a certain percentage of professional subcontractors, they’re actually a win-for-all with wide-ranging socioeconomic benefits, according to ESD President and CEO Howard Zemsky.
“Our economic strength relies on equality of access and opportunity for all New Yorkers – in the workplace, in the boardroom, in state contracting and beyond,” Zemsky said Monday. “These proposals will help push the state to strive for even greater MWBE participation in contracting at all levels.
“New York leads the nation in its commitment to supporting minority and women entrepreneurs,” the ESD president added. “And we’re continuing to build on that progress.”