The Dallas Examiner
Minority and women owners of local businesses gathered to participate in a discussion about their experience of doing business or attempting to do business with the city of Dallas or on city projects during the City of Dallas Office of Business Diversity’s Availability and Disparity Study at the Bill J. Priest Economic Development Center, Feb. 26.
This meeting, the second of two meetings, fulfilled phase 1 of the study. To conduct this study, the city contracted MGT Consulting Group, a nationally recognized firm, to evaluate the utilization of Minority and Women Business Enterprise firms in the city’s procurement/contracting activities in architecture, engineering, construction, other services, professional services and goods, as explained in a statement sent out by Zarin Gracey, managing director of the Office of Business Diversity.
To begin, Gracey gave an opening statement, which included some background information over the study and why it is so important to the city government.
“In the spirit of our new city manager, TC Broadnax, he’s coming in wanting to create this culture of equity. He wants to make Dallas a more equitable city, whether you’re doing business, whether you’re living, whether you’re working, whatever it is – just making the city a more equitable place to live and work and do business. This is just a part of that study,” Gracey said, encouraging attendees to share their experience – negative, positive or both.
He further stated that the honest feedback, along with other facts discovered during the study, would help to reshape their programs to meet the needs of the city’s business community and make Dallas a more equitable place to do business.
“With that said,” he continued, “I have three words that I want you guys to just kind of help anchor your comments, your questions, your thoughts and your feedback. The first one is transparency. How can we be more transparent? How can departments be more transparent as a relation doing business with the city of Dallas? … The second one is equity. Again, I already mentioned – how can we be more equitable across the board? Are you as a subcontractor constantly getting lowballed, or whatever it may be, when coming in through the doors of the city of Dallas because you’re a minority-owned business? Whatever the case may be, how can we as a city be more equitable? And then finally, the last one is accountability. How can we be more accountable? How and what can we do, as in my office at the Office of Business Diversity, how can we help departments be more accountable, how can we hold you accountable, and how you can hold yourself accountable?
“Yes, we want to understand the experiences and they need to catch those experiences, but more importantly, the other side of all of this is going to be a program that helps grow businesses. We have three objectives in the Office of Business Diversity: We want to build capacity, we want diversity compliance, and then we want opportunity creation.”
Following initial remarks from Gracey, MGT Vice President Reggie Smith spoke next, taking a few minutes to briefly discuss his and the agency’s history, role and responsibilities in conducting availability and disparity studies, as well as giving a crash course on the specific timeline and mechanisms that go into such a study here in Dallas.
“I am responsible for all of the disparity studies that we do throughout the country,” Smith said after introducing himself and the purpose of the meeting and study.
Afterward, the floor was opened for the public engagement portion, where much of the public commentary had to do with the headaches of contracting with the city.
Considering that it has been almost 20 years since the last A&D study was conducted, the public engagement response revealed that it had long been considered due time for another. In full, the groups were met by a crowd of roughly 70 members from Dallas business community, many of whom came with concerns, criticisms and suggestions for how the current processes for doing business with the city can be improved.
“So right off the cuff, I’ve had no discriminatory kind of issue,” said Marcus Washington, owner of M&A Quality Cleaning, a company that provides residential, commercial and foreclosure preservation cleaning services. “I guess I’ll say that … thus far. I would have to be very transparent though and admit that I’m a bit concerned as a small business owner, just to hear the somewhat horror stories from those that have went down the road of trying to get contracted with the city. That’s what we aspire to do as well, and I have attempted to do so. But to be quite frank with you, I felt like I needed maybe Google to help me out with the application. Or maybe a learning guide or chat where I could reach out to somebody and scream, ‘Help!’ because I feel like I’m educated, but the process was so so so … laborious and so confusing. I didn’t know if I needed to get one of my children through the application process or what because of the plethora of unnecessary, extra questions as it relates to potentially becoming contracted.”
These sentiments were generally echoed by meeting-goers and a recurring theme throughout the evening seemed to come back around to Washington’s initial question of why is getting a contract with the city of Dallas so difficult?
“We’ve done a bit of business with the city of Dallas since the ‘90s,” said Frank Battle, president and CEO at JBa Land Management LLC. “It was going along pretty well and then it all fell apart and we have a very bad taste in our mouth with the city. When it comes to grounds maintenance things, the city contracts for some of them are just so big – we’ve operated as a prime and a subcontractor – so these contracts are so big, and you have low-balling in the industry also. Then they expect you to be a subcontractor and work for nothing. Then the other issue that I have is, sometimes a contract, because of the size that they are and the time that it takes for a small business to be able to go through and digest and visit sites when they have a list of about 60 sites and they expect you to have it done in two weeks, it’s just that you just can’t do it from small business standpoint.
“When it comes to grounds maintenance for the city of Dallas, there are only a few companies that do grounds maintenance that are sizable. We’re one of those companies, but we choose not to do business with the city because a lot of the people in the departments have no clue, and so they expect me to do things and it’s just like, ‘Ok, well we can’t do that.’
“The other thing too is I also agree with the other gentleman about the Office of Business Diversity having some teeth. When we had an issue, we tried to go in to discuss with them and, again, it was just, ‘Well, we can’t do anything about it.’ And that’s a major, major issue that I have with the city. We just choose to do business elsewhere, without all the issues that you have, and actually make money versus working for free.”
Despite the nature of the meeting being about issues had with the process, it wasn’t entirely negative. There was an occasional inspirational message from a business owner who had successfully navigated the process of obtaining a contract with the city. Overall, the meeting served as a platform to constructively shed light on issues in the process and possible solutions, while simultaneously promoting more efficiency and transparency in the ongoing communications between small minority businesses and the city of Dallas.