Minority Business Participation Level Unacceptable

December 1, 2003
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The Kent County record of business with minority vendors is, at best, extremely disappointing, especially because the numbers can be regarded as even more dismal in the general business community. The county actually tracks these numbers and takes the time to register minority-owned and women-owned businesses; the general business community does not.

The lack of resolve in the general business community to make such an effort also shows in the turnout and sponsorship of minority business events. Most recently this was exemplified at the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce Minority Business Week celebration held in October, which included a luncheon. The event showcases a broad range of minority businesses, all at the top of their game. The general business community “celebrates” by sending their minority employees to the event, rather than the president, vice president and purchasing agent. With only a few exceptions, Grand Rapids Business Journal events showcasing minority-owned businesses have seen similar involvement.

The county numbers also signal that it is more “acceptable” to encourage and do business with women-owned businesses. The YWCA Tribute Awards, the Grand Rapids Business Journal Women of Influence and the Women’s Resource Center have all shown marked increases in attendance at events spotlighting women in the business community. County numbers show that with a 46 percent increase in the number of women-owned businesses registered with the county, purchases by the county with those firms increased 69 percent.

Surely the community events spotlighting these businesses have assisted in outreach efforts, and Grand Rapids Business Journal is among the first to salute the increase. But it pales against the backdrop of the continued struggle of minority-owned businesses. The county saw a 125 percent increase in the number of minority-owned businesses registered with them, but a 30 percent decline in minority-business contracts.

Contrast the numbers for both groups with the fact that Kent County spent 13 percent more with local vendors for the time period measured. That is good news for the general business community, and in an era begging privatization.

The construction of DeVos Place, opening to a VIP business reception this week, is an exception to what seems evident elsewhere. The city of Grand Rapids requested 11 percent minority-business participation and 2 percent women-owned business participation among the 150 subcontractors for the project. Bill Sewell, construction manager for Hunt Construction Group, said the company is presently managing 17 percent minority subcontractors, substantially exceeding the goal.

The Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce this year released a project months in the making: its Minority Business Directory, which encompasses Ottawa and Muskegon counties as well as Kent.

Get it, and use it.    

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