Pt. 2 BBN Series – Business Opportunity: Stepping Into the World of M/WBE
When Black and Brown business owners step into the world of government procurements, they step into a world that is flush with money and ripe for picking.
However, upon entering this world (or profit to be exact) is what you make of it. The Minority and Women Business Owners Enterprise, or M/WBE, program aims to help, but it is the participant – through sheer effort or lack thereof – who makes this program what it is.
M/WBE is currently a multi-billion dollar program with just under 3,400 participants. NYC agencies spent over $1.2 billion last year buying goods and services from this pool of M/WBE vendors.
Yet, despite ostensibly being an easy-to-climb ladder to success made for small businesses, by all accounts the M/WBE program has colossal room for improvement.
Critics, such as former Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum, have belittled the program’s effectiveness on the basis that only a fraction of Black and Brown businesses eligible for M/WBE certification actually and successfully apply.
In January, NYC Comptroller John Liu railed against Michael Bloomberg for scantily breezing over the program during the mayor’s 2012 State of the City Address.
According to the city comptroller office’s M/WBE tracker, despite the billions of dollars generated for the handful of businesses that make good money through the program – companies like Hispanic-owned Padilla Construction Services, Inc., which earned nearly $60 million since 2010 – on a whole, less than three percent of the city’s total contracting dollars, went the way of Black and Brown businesses; or, any minority or women-owned business for that matter.
This is where you come in, and by action can make the program and your business grow.
Like the food-stamp program, there is a certain stigma and ignorance about the M/WBE program. But, this program is the other billion dollar government program, one of jobs and the one that renders government checks that are hard-earned – Not handouts.
The small number of M/WBE participants is evidence the program is very much in need of more business owners, those looking to either startup or expand.
How? Start online Go to the city’s M/WBE website. Do what Akosua Albritton did. Hoping to expand her consulting agency, Planning to Succeed, Albritton in 2006 applied to the M/WBE program and stepped into the world of government procurements.
“The M/WBE has increased my customer base,” says Albritton. Since stepping into the M/WBE program, Planning to Succeed hasn’t made nearly as much as fellow W/MBE member Padilla Construction Services. Yet, the program has been a boon for her business. “I saw this program as a registry to be used to further my own marketing efforts. So, becoming M/WBE was a means to the goal. For me, being M/WBE isn’t a goal in itself.”
Whatever your goals may be, accomplishing them as a certified member may — like two birds caught with one stone – also help the city reach its goals of accessibility. Currently, the goal numbers on record in the city’s law department have never been met, meaning there remains billions of dollars on the table yet to claim through the program.
While the fruit of M/WBE is ripe to pick, it requires your efforts to meet your business’s bottom line. It means stepping into the world of government procurement and leaving none of its deserved set aside money uncollected on the table.
Chuka Kene is a contributing writer of this series and has gone through the M/WBE process for his company, The Brooklyn Free Press, Inc.” Anjanette Levert is contributing editor to BBN’s Special Series on NYC’s M/WBE Program
*This story is the second in a three-part series about the business market of government procurements. Part three of the series will feature voices of actual Black and Brown businesses owners who share their experience with M/WBE program. Read Part One of the Series.
Improving MWBE Service Models (for policymakers as well as end-beneficiaries of M/WBE)