Disparity study panel: Partnerships are key to minority businesses getting more contracts

Perry: ‘We must work together — even if you don’t like each other, just do it’

Marjorie Perry, as is her way, cut straight to the point.

When speaking on a panel at a town hall-style event Saturday that discussed the state’s recently released disparity study — and how minority businesses can respond to a document that showed they seemingly have been systematically shortchanged when it comes to landing government contracts — she said the business leaders in the room need to first look in the mirror.

“I just have to say this to our Latino and African American crowd: We must work together,” she said. “Even if you don’t like each other, just do it.”

Perry, the CEO of MZM Construction and Management, said the stakes — as in, the dollar amounts — are too high.

“We have to get away from, ‘I don’t like,’ or, ‘I don’t think’ — it doesn’t work,” she said. “If someone is doing $40 million (in revenue) and you’re doing $300,000, go talk to them. We have to partner up or we will not be able to move the disparity needle at all.”

To this point, the needle has flat-lined.

The 221-page disparity study, commissioned in 2020 and released in January, 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.)

The report listed similarly stunning numbers toward Hispanic-, Asian- and women-owned companies. To date, administration and legislative officials have done little to address the disparity.

The event, held at New Jersey Institute of Technology and sponsored by Newark Councilman Lawrence Crump, was aimed at how minority businesses could help themselves.

Perry said companies need to find partners — especially in the construction game — to improve their standing.

Want to work on the Gateway Tunnel? she asked. Then find a partner and do a joint venture, because “even the big guys aren’t doing it by themselves anymore.”

Perry said her firm used joint ventures to be able to participate in efforts to do work at five schools in Newark.

“I had to partner with others because we didn’t have enough back-office support to do the scalable work that they had — and I was determined to work on those five schools here,” she said. “They may not always look like someone like me, but that’s OK, because you want to build that relationship through your network.”

Partnerships are how you can scale your business, Perry said. And how minority businesses can help other minority businesses scale theirs, too.

“We need to take our stronger minority firms to help the smaller ones,” she said. “I’m working with four right now. They don’t have financial statements; they can’t even get into the system.”

Companies looking for that help can find it in many places.

Both the African American and Statewide Hispanic chambers — working in conjunction with the New Jersey Economic Development Authority — have programs in place to help small companies get the bonding they need (not to mention the voluminous paperwork needed) to be able to bid on government contracts.

Denise Anderson, the CEO of Denise Anderson & Associates, is co-chairing a disparity study task force established by the African American Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey along with Ferlanda Nixon — one that aims to help all minority businesses through advocacy and action.

Luis De La Hoz, the chairman of the Statewide Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey, said partners can be found in many places. He singled out Kelly Brozyna, the CEO and state director of the New Jersey Small Business Development Centers.

“Our allies don’t need to look like us,” he said. “We just need people that are committed to helping minorities, and she is a good example of that. (The NJSBDC) can provide the technical assistance that we cannot, because we don’t have the capacity.”

And, while partnering is great, Perry said those who really want to succeed will take the initiative on their own.

Perry pointed to her own efforts to return to school, getting an MBA from NJIT, so she would be better prepared. And then, she pointed out that getting an advanced degree is no longer the only way to get smarter. So many schools offer certification classes that bring advanced knowledge, Perry said.

“You can learn finance, understand the balance sheet, understand where your burn rate is,  understand those things, so, when you go in and you tell your accountant, ‘I need a financial statement that will help me get a state contract,’ you understand what you need to tell them, so that he can make sure that you look your best financial picture,” she said.