Black women demand for policy changes to help spur minority-owned businesses
By Victor Ochieng
Minority businesses have been going through several policy challenges that make it difficult for them to grow. With government contracts mainly going to the big companies, it’s a challenge for the small companies owned by minorities to penetrate the market and compete with the big ones.
It’s for such reasons that many business people and lobbyists such as Andrea Harris keep putting more pressure on the government to effect some policy changes that will provide a lifeline for smaller companies.
Andrea Harris, the founder of N.C. Institute for Economic Development, has been on forefront on fighting to open opportunities for women-and-minority-owned businesses. It’s through her efforts that in 2014, she earned a lifetime achievement award from the Triangle Business Journal.
During the Black Women in Business Conference held on Thursday at the PNC Arena in Raleigh, Harris shared her various efforts to expand market accessibility for minority and women-owned businesses. The conference was attended by more than 20 women business leaders and was centered on finding ways to create, identify, and explore business opportunities.
To provide ready information on how minority businesses are nurtured, Harris’ latest effort is to lobby the federal government to make it mandatory for government contractors to report on details of the number of minority subcontractors that they work with. This will be in addition to what the federal government currently requires of government contractors such as reporting on women-owned businesses and veteran-owned businesses that they work with. Harris believes that if the government does that, it will inspire the contractors to do more with minority-owned businesses.
Currently, contractors aren’t required to make monthly payments to sub-contractors, something that Harris believes negatively affects small businesses. This is why she wants Congress to pass a law requiring contractors to pay monthly.
“If you are a small business, particularly one owned by an African American woman, you can’t wait 90 days for payments to go through,” Harris says. “Your banker doesn’t care what your contract says. That’s driven a lot of firms to stop doing contracting work.”
She has a systematic plan to reach out to the U.S. House’s Small Business Committee to look into the issues soon.
Harris cited that minority companies have made enormous strides over the past few decades.
U.S. Census data indicates that between 2007 and 2012, minority-owned firms hired more than five times the number of workers hired by those not owned by minorities. At the same time, several minority firms have also been able to land some handsome contracts that have seen them get involved in quite interesting projects.
In as much as these strides have been made, Harris still believes that a lot still needs to be done, owing to the fact that minority-owned businesses are still facing numerous challenges.
She’s concerned with the declining number of state-level engagements with minority and women-owned businesses. The fact that African-American women are also not given any sitting in corporate boards is also a matter of concern that Harris can’t overlook.