Minority, Women-Owned Businesses less likely to win Metro Contracts

Nashville -Metro isn't taking advantage of the city's network of minority and women-owned businesses.

That's the conclusion of a new disparity study presented to members of Metro Council this week.

Of the nearly $3 billion worth of Metro prime contracts reviewed by the study, 17 percent of those taxpayer dollars went to minority and women-owned businesses, according to a presentation given by consultants with Atlanta-based Griffin & Strong on Monday. Representatives from the consulting firm said the study's results demonstrate a "statistically significant underutilization" by Metro of nearly all minority groups.

For instance, African American-owned firms received 3.49 percent of all Metro prime contracts, which Metro consultants said was not consistent with the amount of African American-owned businesses available to do business with Metro.

The disparity study — Metro's first since 2005 — comes as officials continue to grapple with how to help minority-owned businesses directly benefit from the "It City" boom.

Metro has frequently been criticized for its procurement policies. In April, Mayor David Briley launched the Minority Business Advisory Council to help his administration look for ways to improve how minority-owned businesses interact with Metro. That group has yet to release any recommendations.

Shortly before the report was presented to council members, Briley called the results both unsurprising and unacceptable.

"As I talk about often, my administration is committed to ensuring all Nashvillians can equitably participate in our city’s success and growth. To this end, we must focus on addressing long-standing systemic issues," Briley said in a statement.

The new study reviewed the following categories: construction, architectural and engineering, other professional services and non-professional services. In each category, African American-owned, Hispanic-owned, and white women-owned businesses saw significant underutilization, according to the study.

The study also found minority-owned firms struggle to become subcontractors for Metro; however, those numbers are harder to quantify, since Metro doesn't track the number of potential minority subcontractors.

For a deeper breakdown on each category, check out the full presentation here. A finalized version of the report is expected to be released later this week, according to Judith Byrd, the mayor's spokeswoman.

Consultants also surveyed minority business owners to determine anecdotally why their firms aren't working with Metro. That feedback included that small firms feel "unfairly stereotyped" on their ability to serve as a prime contractor based on their size. They also said the application process is too lengthy and expensive, and that Metro lacks the coordination to help minority-owned businesses stay involved in the city's procurement process.

The study also included 10 recommendations for Metro to improve its procurement policies, including boosting outreach to minority-owned businesses. Briley said he will release an "action plan" in October to help implement all 10 recommendations.