Stringer Launches an M/WBE ‘University’

NYC Comptroller Scott M. Stringer (Photo by Gustavo Martínez Contreras for Voices of NY)

For four years, New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer has been urging the city and city agencies to do a better job in contracting with minority and women-owned business enterprises (M/WBEs). Some noteworthy gains have been recorded over the period, but the letter grades he has assigned the city’s agencies in his annual report card remain disappointingly low.

Now, in a bid to “increase access to the comptroller’s office and citywide opportunities for M/WBEs,” Stringer is going further in championing the cause.

On Jan. 26, he announced that his office will sponsor a series of workshops this year dubbed “M/WBE University.” The first workshop, scheduled for Feb. 23, is entitled “Doing Business with NYC as an IBM, CDW or Ricoh Partner.” Other workshop topics include one for auditors, another on capital, bonds and tax breaks, doing business with the comptroller’s office, learning about the prevailing wage and a final one in December 2018 on “The Future of M/WBEs in NYC.” All will be held at the David N. Dinkins Building at 1 Centre St.

“With M/WBE University, we’re building on our office’s work and helping business owners navigate the city procurement process. This is about fairness,” Comptroller Stringer said. “M/WBE University is so important because these companies help to build real, local wealth across all of our communities. That’s why we need to work with these businesses closely. If we’re going to have a true five-borough economy where everyone has a fair shot, we have to make sure our M/WBEs are successful.”

Jonnel Doris, senior advisor and director of the Mayor’s Office of M/WBEs (NYC.gov website)

The issue has been a bit of a thorn in the side for the mayor’s office, which has questioned the comptroller’s analyses in the past. Still, it could be argued that Stringer’s laser-like focus on the issue has forced the city to be more attentive. In September of 2016, Deputy Mayor Richard Buery was appointed as citywide M/WBE director to oversee the implementation of city initiatives and programs across agencies that benefit M/WBEs, and Jonnel Doris was named senior advisor and director of the Mayor’s Office of M/WBEs.

Raul A. Contreras, spokesperson for the Mayor’s Office of M/WBEs, in commenting on the latest initiative from Stringer’s office, noted that “in FY17, the administration awarded over $1 billion to M/WBEs for the first time in city history. We appreciate the supporting efforts of the comptroller to help move this progress further.”

The Mayor’s Office of M/WBEs coordinates and streamlines activities citywide to ensure that businesses get the services they need and “know where to go” for what they need, said Contreras. The office has also pushed for policy changes at the state level that should help boost contract dollars awarded to city M/WBEs. In December, state law was changed to permit discretionary spending on goods and services by the city of up to $150,000 per contract under a streamlined process, up from $20,000. Since discretionary spending contracts don’t have to go through a lengthy and complex approval process, this change should boost overall dollars awarded to minority businesses by city agencies in coming years.

Both the Mayor’s Office of M/WBEs and the NYC Department of Small Business Services agency have many programs, trainings and the like to help businesses grow and garner more city contracts, and SBS even recently introduced a mobile unit to provide assistance where the businesses are located.

The M/WBE University workshop topics were based on a community needs assessment the comptroller’s office conducted last year, and they are designed to bring a unique perspective that may not be found in the offerings from the Mayor’s Office of M/WBEs or the Department of Small Business Services. “We welcome anything that will help our efforts,” said Contreras.

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