Bishop on Boosting M/WBE City Contracting

Gregg Bishop, Commission of the Department of Small Business Services, at the opening of a new workforce center in Washington Heights in September (Photo by Gregg McQueen via Manhattan Times)

Gregg Bishop, commissioner of the Department of Small Business Services, at the opening of a new workforce center in Washington Heights in September (Photo by Gregg McQueen via Manhattan Times)

NYC Department of Small Business Services Commissioner Gregg Bishop, whose department will be a lynchpin of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s efforts to boost city contracting with minority and women-owned businesses (M/WBEs), told reporters at a roundtable on Oct. 21 that he is committed to continuing to boost the number of businesses that are certified, so that the availability of such businesses is sufficient to allow agencies to meet the mayor’s ambitious goals.

Bishop noted that the city is looking for relief from restrictions in state law, in order to give agencies greater discretion in awarding contracts up to a certain dollar amount to the bidder they designate, so that they are not bound by rules which have required that contracts go to the lowest bidder, who may not necessarily be certified as an M/WBE.

The de Blasio administration, said Bishop, is taking the strongest stand on the issue since the administration of Mayor David Dinkins in the early 1990s. Late last month, Mayor de Blasio announced the appointment of Deputy Mayor Richard Buery as the new director of the initiative, a new senior advisor for the program, and the creation of a Mayor’s Office of M/WBEs. The city aims to have at least 30 percent of the dollar amount of city contracts awarded to M/WBEs by 2021.

“The message has been sent from the top down,” said Bishop, that staff at various agencies need to change their behavior and pay attention to this issue. “There’s a level of cultural change that we are embarking on.” SBS is planning training sessions for agency chief contracting officers and program managers.

What’s more, for the city to be able to meet its goals, the supply of certified businesses has to grow, and that’s where SBS will play a key role. “We have to be primed to say [to contracting officers] ‘OK, what kind of M/WBE are you looking for?'”

As the certifying agency, Bishop says, SBS is in the process of analyzing which kinds of businesses, such as engineering and infrastructure businesses, city contractors may require a large pool from which to select. SBS will target certain businesses for certification efforts, to ensure that they are certifying companies that have the opportunity to do business with the city of New York.

What’s more, SBS will try to simplify the actual certification process, though Bishop stressed that “there’s a balance we need to have.” It’s important to maintain the integrity of the program, he noted, while still making things a little easier by, for instance, obtaining tax returns directly from the IRS rather than have applicant businesses forward tax returns. “We’re looking at unpacking the process, to make it a little more streamlined.” One thing planned: SBS will endeavor to make the application itself less daunting by using more plain language.

Bishop conceded that getting immigrant-owned businesses to certify as minority-owned can be a challenge, since many immigrants may be distrustful of government based on experiences in their countries of origin. Bishop said he’d give SBS a “C+” on its outreach to immigrant businesses in this area.

There are 4,500 businesses certified as M/WBEs in the city, up 23 percent since the beginning of the de Blasio administration. The aim is to double the number of certified businesses to 9,000 by fiscal year 2019.

On other topics, Bishop noted that SBS was dedicated to helping businesses expand and operate by working to help them meet their employment needs. SBS will follow up the recent opening of a workforce center for immigrants in Washington Heights with other initiatives in other parts of the city.

Bishop, who has a background in technology, noted that he’s a fervent believer in training and teaching young people who he calls “at promise,” rather than “at risk.” All they need is opportunity, said Bishop.

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