Diversity’s Price Is Higher, Worth It

May 17, 2004
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Grand Rapids Business Journal lauds the Downtown Development Authority and the city this week, for putting its money on its value system. The DDA last week awarded a parking lot construction bid, not to the lowest bidder, but to the lowest bidder proving it met the test of Equal Business Opportunity. The DDA will pay the $12,154 difference in contract price.

Various city departments, especially the police department, over and again have found themselves in a defensive posture in regard to real and perceived racial bias. The policy adopted last year also was met with doubt in replacing a long-standing city policy that required minority participation in such bids. The new policy rewards, rather than penalizes, businesses.

The city established a point system providing “discounts” in five areas as objectives are met by bidders. Those include supplier diversity, work force diversity, community partnerships, environmental values and economic vitality. Diversco earned 1.5 more points than the lowest bidder. It was especially noteworthy that Diversco, at the center of criticism a year ago, earned points for supplier diversity as well as company attendance at an anti-racism summit, which was credited in the community partnership category.

It is certainly the taxpayers who bear the cost of the “reward” program, and the city has acted on behalf of the community in applying policy to stated community values. This should not be ignored, but held up as example of this community’s intent.

Mayor George Heartwell is hopeful that the example provides incentive for other contractors to avail themselves of such inclusiveness. The city commission has used the new policy for to several other projects this year. The point system also provides a road map of values for those who would contract with the city.

It is not the cheapest way to do business and the city’s decision to pay “up” may be met with some criticism, but the “easy” way is not always the right way. Recycling costs more than not recycling; recycled paper is more expensive than that which is not. Building rehabilitation is fraught with special issues and problems, but the alternative is constant destruction rather than creativity. As more businesses avail themselves to the long-term benefits — and long-term cost savings — of such programs, price differences will become more negligible.

City Engineer Bill Cole bravely asserts, “The program is working.”

It should work so well as to become unnecessary.           

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