City DopeNews

Study: Few ACC Contractors Are Minority- or Women-Owned

Credit: Joshua L. Jones/file

A study of racial and gender disparities in Athens-Clarke County government contracts found no apparent barriers to minority- and women-owned business enterprises winning such contracts, but that ACC awarded few contracts to MWBEs nonetheless.

During fiscal 2017–21, just 1% of ACC spending was with MWBEs. “So there is some work to be done, but that’s OK. That’s why you do these types of studies, to find out where you are,” Vernetta Mitchell, director of disparity services for MTG Consulting Group, told ACC commissioners at an Aug. 8 work session. ACC paid Atlanta-based MTG $400,000 for the disparity study.

The study compared the number of MWBEs in a 31-county area encompassing Athens and metro Atlanta—where most ACC contractors are located—with the number of MWBEs that won bids. In the construction field, for example, 28% of construction businesses in that geographical area have Black, Hispanic or white female owners, but they made up just 2.1% of construction contractors hired by ACC.

MTG boiled down the numbers to a “disparity scale” from 0–100, with 100 being no disparity and anything under 80 being a significant disparity. ACC scored a 5.4, including 0.77 for Black-owned businesses. But MTG Vice President Andres Bernal urged commissioners not to focus on how low the figures were. “Once we get to the threshold of 80, that is evidence” for disparities, he said.

The main reason ACC commissioned the study is that court precedents require evidence of racial and gender disparities before governments can implement preferential treatment policies. Some policies MTG recommended include forming a business inclusion office to conduct outreach and provide technical assistance, unbundling contracts so that smaller firms can bid on them, and setting goals for percentages of contracts handed out to MWBEs.

As for why the disparities exist, in survey responses some MWBEs pointed to a “good ol’ boy” network and predatory business practices, and said they were rarely solicited for bids unless there was a specific goal for MWBE involvement. Some MWBEs may also lack the proper insurance or bonding, may not understand the requirements in a request for proposals, or just believe they can’t win, Green said.

In addition, with state agencies like the Georgia Department of Transportation currently flush with federal cash, ACC is competing with much larger projects to hire MWBEs, Finance Director David Boyd said. “You’re going to choose the big boys,” he said. “It’s $20 million, or $1 million from us.”