Mayor Tom Henry's administration will pay a California firm up to $234,000 for a study meant to help small, minority-owned businesses win a greater share of city contracts worth tens of millions of dollars each year.
As The News-Sentinel first reported in October 2011, the study will guide the city's efforts to reach out to local firms owned by minorities, women, veterans and disabled people. City officials have said these types of firms may feel unable to win large jobs or meet strict rules for bidding on public work.
“Small businesses, collectively, they are the largest employers in the area,” Henry said. “We have an obligation to make sure they're given every opportunity to work with the city.”
The city will pay Mason Tillman Associates, an African-American-owned consulting firm based in Oakland, Calif., up to $243,000 for the two-part study. Federal community development grants will fund up to $100,000 of the first phase, with the city paying an additional $43,849.
The study's first phase will focus on identifying local small businesses that may be capable of working with the city, while the second phase would try to determine why firms may not participate in the public bidding process.
Sheryl Edwards, chair of Henry's diversity council, said, “We've heard rumors that there are perceived barriers” to doing business with the city. “This study will determine if there are indeed barriers.”
Fort Wayne already has a “buy local” ordinance that encourages it to do business with local companies, along with a policy that calls for minority-owned firms to get 10 percent of city contracts, said Steve Gillette, the city's purchasing director. In 2011, the city spent about $77 million on construction, goods and services.
The city would focus on independently-owned firms that have been in business for 15 years or less and had gross annual revenue of $5 million or less for each of the past three years.
City officials will introduce the study to City Council as an ordinance Tuesday.