Women, minority-owned businesses can reap certification benefits

Obtaining state or federal certification, or both, that a business is minority or women-owned can provide greater exposure, enabling an owner to promote or help get a business off the ground and obtain government contracts, city and state officials agree.

According to information at Empire State Development (http://on.ny.gov/2I3eE4K), to qualify as a state Minority or Women Owned Business Enterprise (MWBE), a business owner must apply for and provide documentation showing the business meets certain criteria, including:

• The business is independently owned, operated and controlled by minority members and/or women with authority to control day-to-day business decisions.

• Each minority or woman owner has personal net worth not to exceed $3.5 million after allowable deductions.

• The business has a maximum of 300 employees.

• The business has been in operation for at least one year.

New York state has been making a concerted effort to increase business opportunities for minorities and women, observed Constance Jefferson, the MWBE officer for the City of Rochester’s department of finance/bureau of purchasing.

Any company that gets a state grant for such major projects as public works, construction or economic development must attempt to ensure that 30 percent of the subcontractors it hires are MWBEs, she explained. Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the 30 percent state contract goal for MWBEs in 2014 along with programs to increase certification and provide loans, according to information at http://on.ny.gov/2Fh01x1.

Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren recently announced a similar goal for the city, according to information provided by her office. She has introduced legislation for City Council approval to set a goal that MWBEs receive 30 percent of the city’s total annual awards for public works projects and professional services consulting contracts effective the next fiscal year, which starts July 1, 2018.

“If you’re a minority or women-owned business and you’re not certified, you (could) lose a lot of economic development projects,” Jefferson said. “Our state of New York has so much money that it is putting out in grants. If you’re not certified, you’re not going to get the opportunity to work those jobs.”

She noted, however, that state contractors can apply for waivers of the MWBE requirement if a project involves very specialized equipment, such as cranes or technical equipment. Many MWBEs are small firms which don’t have that kind of equipment.

The MWBE certification is intended primarily as a stepping stone to help businesses grow to the point where they become prime contractors that will hire their own subcontractors, Jefferson noted.

“(MWBE owners) understand what it means to get to that stature and take care of (other) folks,” she said.

The MWBE certification from the New York & New Jersey Minority Supplier Development Council Inc. is similar to the state criteria and need for documentation, according to information at http://nynjmsdc.org. The council is a membership organization that facilitates contract-procurement opportunities between large organizations and its certified minority suppliers, explained Erica Hernández Cornier, vice president of strategic planning and business development.

The supplier group incorporates Asian, black, Hispanic and Native American business owners throughout New York state and the northern and central regions of New Jersey. The council’s membership consists of Fortune 500 corporations, government agencies, educational institutions and nonprofit organizations.

“In addition (to contract opportunities), certified firms are eligible to participate in education programs and workshops aimed at assisting businesses (to) increase their capabilities,” Hernández said.

While valuable, such certifications don’t negate the importance of hard work and exploring all avenues to expand one’s business profile, said Tyrone Reaves, who started a sheet-metal fabrication and machining business 26 years ago. His Rochester-based company, TruForm Manufacturing, employs about 60 people, and he has obtained several certifications, including MWBE at the state level.

He said he started his business after leaving Xerox Corp. and tries to employ as many residents from the City of Rochester where he was born and raised.

“I do put an emphasis on trying to hire people … who are less fortunate, not in terms of income, but in terms of less fortunate in getting opportunities to get a skilled trade,” he said.

Opportunities have opened up for his business due to New York’s efforts to increase access to government contracts through its 30 percent state contract goal, he said.

“This is the best climate we’ve had in 26 years of being in business,” Reaves said. “Gov. (Andrew) Cuomo has been really aggressive in making (businesses meet) its 30 percent requirement for anyone doing contract work with the state of New York. That is unprecedented.”

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