Minority parsing

December 02, 2007

City Hall's long-standing effort to give minority businesses a respectable share of city contracts remains a work in progress. New changes to Baltimore's 30-year-old minority business development law will likely increase the work awarded to specific groups, but the goal of getting businesses to compete on their own should remain the program's main focus.

Despite receiving $626.7 million in city contract dollars over the past six years, minority- and women-owned businesses remain underrepresented in municipal-related work, according to a consultant's review. City officials say minority firms receive about 15 percent to 17 percent of city work, less than the 26.5 percent that their presence in the marketplace would suggest. And the beneficiaries of the work aren't as diverse as they should be.

To address that problem, the City Council last week approved changes to the law that would require the city to set specific goals for individual ethnic groups. It's a more precise parsing of the municipal spoils in an attempt to make sure no minority benefits to the exclusion of another.

But how that split will help minority firms advance so they can compete on their own against established, white-owned firms is unclear. A pitiful few are able to do so now.

City officials attribute the problem in part to a continued reluctance of big companies to hire minority subcontractors and to attempts to get around the city's goals. The intent of minority enterprise programs has been to redress years of inherent discrimination. But government assistance isn't enough to correct this disparity. The business community has to see that it's in its interest to nurture and support an economy in which all residents of the city - no matter their race or gender - prosper.

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