Tuesday marks two weeks since the state released the long-promised disparity study — one that showed all minority groups, as well as females, have received nowhere near their “fair share” of state contracts, based on their population size and their ability to do the work.
The 221-page report, commissioned in 2020, was filled with stunning data, including this fact: Even though Black-owned companies in the state represent 9.19% of the available construction businesses, they received only 0.14% of the dollars on construction contracts valued over $65,000 to $5.71 million. (The report estimates this potentially cost these businesses $209 million.)
More stunning: These numbers didn’t surprise anyone, including state officials.
Even more stunning: The state, after releasing this report, seemingly has done little to address the issue. No focus groups, roundtable discussions, executive orders or legislative proposals have been announced.
After years of saying it needed a study to be able to do something, the state has not made any public announcements on how it will address the findings.
A spokesperson for the state indicated some action has been taken in private.
“It was important to get the study out as soon as possible, and we’ve been meeting with multiple stakeholders as we work through next steps,” the spokesperson said.
There was no indication of when those next steps may come.
The leaders of the New Jersey Diverse Business Council — a group of 12 chambers of commerce working in partnership with the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce and the New Jersey Business & Industry Association — aren’t waiting around for the state to act. They are pushing for action.
The group met last Thursday in Trenton and released a statement suggesting short-term and long-term goals.
Of immediate concern, it is asking the governor to issue an executive order with the following goals:
- Create a New Jersey Diverse Business Advisory Council, made up of the diverse chamber leads and members representing the Governor’s Office, the Economic Development Authority, Department of the Treasury and members of the Legislature;
- Make the NJDBAC an official state council;
- Ensure that every state agency must cooperate with the council;
- Require all Requests for Proposals moving forward to contain language for diverse business utilization;
- Establish an office for small & diverse business development.
Long-term, there are bigger asks, including:
- Commit to 30% small and diverse procurement by setting inclusive procurement goals — and making this a legislative priority;
- Provide funding in the state budget to diverse chambers to conduct outreach and programming;
- Conduct significant outreach and education programs;
- Streamlined certification that lasts five years, without having to update every year;
- Passage of S1313/A3330 — LGBTQ+ certification;
- Conduct training for all state procurement professionals on defining the good-faith effort and small & diverse utilization.
To be sure, there are plenty of moves that can be made — and some that have been made before the study was released.
Jeff Cantor, the founder and CEO of the New Jersey State Veterans Chamber of Commerce, thanked the governor and Legislature in January for passing and signing S2249/A4211, which lowered the number of disabled veterans’ businesses required to bid on a set-aside contract from three to two.
“This will have a significant impact,” he said.
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Leaders of the Diverse Business Council, including heads of the Black, Hispanic, Asian Indian, Panjubi, AAPI and Pride chambers, as well as numerous women’s organizations (complete list below) want more action such as this.
They are doing all they can to ensure the disparity study doesn’t become a dusty document on a shelf — the result of the Path to Progress and so many other studies.
They will work collectively and individually.
The African American Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey is hosting a town hall meeting on the study — and what can be done in its aftermath — Tuesday afternoon (3-5 p.m.) at the Crowne Plaza in Princeton.
Its leader, John Harmon, will surely provide plenty of stats and facts about what needs to be done. But he knows as much as anyone that little will get done with the state taking the lead.
“It’s nice to release a report with a lot of comments about the issue, but there needs to be more,” he said. “Kumbayas are nice, but there needs to be intentionality.
“Let’s not pat ourselves on the back for acknowledging a problem we all know existed, let’s talk about how we’re going to solve problem.”
- New Jersey State Veterans Chamber of Commerce
- Statewide Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of N.J.
- African American Chamber of Commerce of N.J.
- Women’s Business Enterprise Council
- Asian Indian Chamber of Commerce
- New York & New Jersey Minority Supplier Development Council
- Punjabi Chamber of Commerce
- New Jersey Pride Chamber of Commerce
- Professional Women in Construction – New Jersey
- New Jersey Association of Women Business Owners
- AAPI New Jersey
- Eastern Minority Supplier Development Council
- New Jersey Chamber of Commerce
- New Jersey Business & Industry Association