Kent Spends More With Minorities

November 4, 2005
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GRAND RAPIDS — Kent County has increased the number of minority- and woman-owned vending and supply companies in its business enterprise program by 129 percent since the initiative started in 2000.

The amount of money the county spent with those firms rose by 28 percent from 2000 to 2004. And the total dollars the county has made available for those businesses to make bids on rose by 42 percent over that same time frame.

“We have shown steady progress,” said Jon Denhof, purchasing director for the county.

There were 128 companies owned by minorities and women registered with the program in its first year. In 2004, that number jumped to 293, an increase of 129 percent. In 2000, the county spent $1.41 million with firms led by minorities and women. In 2004, that figure went to $1.82 million, an increase of more than 28 percent. (See related chart.)

During the program’s initial year, Kent County identified nearly $5.95 million that could be spent with those firms over a dozen vendor categories. In 2004, that recognized dollar amount reached $8.42 million, an increase of 42 percent.

Denhof credited the program’s growth to the outreach effort the county enacted in 2002, the year the number of businesses registered with the program climbed by 87 percent. That result came from a six-point plan to get the word out that the county was looking for more minority- and women-owned firms to register with the program and to bid on purchases the county makes each year.

Key to that plan was the county joining the Michigan Minority Business Development Council, which certifies and classifies minority businesses locally and alerts the county when a new company opens its doors.

Two other factors also helped the program grow. One was Kent’s charter membership in the Regional Alliance for Diversity in Public Purchasing, whose mission is to enhance opportunities for minorities, women and the disabled. Another was the county creating marketing materials that explained to firms how they could do business with the county.

Because the program “did not meet expectations” in 2003, Denhof said the purchasing department drew up five new initiatives that raised the amount of dollars that could be spent with MWBE companies in 2004. In 2003, $6.6 million was available. In 2004, $8.4 million was in the pot — a 27 percent hike.

The county spent $1.82 million with businesses owned by minorities and women in 2004, up by 72 percent from the $1.05 million spent in 2003. A good portion of that increase came from two construction projects that awarded five contracts to minority subcontracting firms.

“We’re working with major contractors and we asked them to use minority contractors. We try to be more diligent about that,” said Denhof.

Denhof said a constant challenge the county faces in making awards to these firms is some are so tiny that owners can’t afford the liability bond needed for a project. To counter that problem, Denhof said the county tries to make contracts small enough so a bond isn’t required.

Denhof also gave credit for the program’s growth to commissioners who increased the county’s advertising budget, even though the general fund faced a deficit. He said those ad dollars were targeted to reach companies owned by minorities and women.

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