Westchester County’s Office of Economic Development on Jan. 22 announced what it describes as three important changes to the county’s Minority and Women-owned Business Enterprises Program (MWBE).
Section 308 of the Westchester County charter requires the government to “use its best efforts to encourage, promote and increase participation of business enterprises owned and controlled by persons of color or women (MBE/WBE) in contracts and projects funded by all departments of the county and to develop a policy to efficiently and effectively monitor such participation.”
After taking office, County Executive George Latimer determined it was time for a fresh look at MWBE and assembled a task force headed by Deputy County Executive Ken Jenkins.
Latimer, Jenkins, the county’s Director of Economic Development Bridget Gibbons and others involved with the MWBE program were at a news conference at the county office building in White Plains where the changes were announced.
“Westchester County is committed to creating a level playing field where all small businesses can succeed,” Latimer said. “The county’s MWBE program provides minority and women-owned businesses the opportunity to compete in the marketplace by gaining access to county contracts.” Latimer said that minority- and women-owned businesses, especially when they’re small businesses, generally are thought to have a steeper climb to success in the business world.
“The reality of the society is that every small business has to put together a competitive plan of how they’re going to operate when they deal with much larger businesses that have greater resources and those that are headed by women and headed by those who are people of color have it more difficult to have developed those networks,” Latimer said.
Gibbons explained that they looked at what was being done in six other counties in New York and pulled together the best ideas.
“Number one, we’re establishing percentage goals for the different (Westchester County government) departments for contracting categories, so we now have a 20% goal for professional services and a 10% goal for goods that are purchased. Our goal over time is to increase those percentages so that eventually in a couple of years we’re at the 30% goal across the board.”
She said the second change is to re-establish the technical assistance plan committee. “This committee was part of the law that had created the MWBE program,” Gibbons said. “Their role is to develop educational technical information assistance programs targeting MWBEs.”
Gibbons said that the third change they’re making is the registration process in which businesses can sign up and show their interest in obtaining county contracts.
“We now have a short form and a long form. Those MWBEs who are already New York state certified or certified by a number of authorities in New York state, they’re fast-tracked and they just need to provide us with some minimal amount of information and the document establishing that they are already New York state certified,” Gibbons said. “For those who are not (already state certified), we’ve got a longer form that collects enough information for us to b able to validate that they are indeed MWBEs.”
Gibbons said the forms and other information are available at the Westchester County Office of Economic Development’s new website, westchestercatalyst.com.
Jenkins pointed out with a $2.1 billion budget, the county spends hundreds of millions of dollars each year and there are tremendous contracting opportunities. “MWBE businesses just need the opportunity to show what they can do and compete,” he said.
During the news conference, a new award named in honor of the late county legislator Lois Bronz was presented to the Women’s Enterprise Development Center (WEDC). Bronz was the first African-American woman elected to the country’s board of legislators. The award is to recognize organizations that have made special efforts to promote women in business.
Latimer recalled the time two decades ago when he and Bronz served together on the county board. “When I was chairman of the board 20 years ago, she was the vice chair of the board and she succeeded me as the first woman and the first African-American woman to ever serve in that position and chair the county legislature,” he said.
Bronz’s daughter Fran presented the award to WEDC President Anne Janiak, who explained that the organization offers “a wide array of entrepreneurial training programs and services to help our clients at every stage of business development.”
Janiak said, “We know that when women-owned and minority-owned businesses succeed these entrepreneurs are not only able to support themselves and their families but their employees, as well as contribute to the economic vitality of the region. And that benefits us all. Small business continues to be the backbone of our economy.”