Delaware officials to study racial diversity in state contracts

DOVER — Some officials believe minority-owned companies are not receiving their fair share of business from the state. That’s why this year’s capital bond bill contains half a million dollars to study racial inequities in the state’s procurement process.

“To build a level playing field, you have to dig deep,” Sen. Bryan Townsend, D-Newark, said. “Making sure that businesses from the Black and Latinx communities have a chance to compete is a major part of that effort, and no entity is in a better position to foster diversity in competition than the state. There have been some efforts over the years, but a formal and broader disparity study gives us the opportunity to improve existing programs and make bold changes and investments.”

The Office of Supplier Diversity is responsible for identifying small businesses owned by minorities, women, veterans and individuals with disabilities. As of May 19, there were 355 Delaware-based businesses certified as diverse by the office.

Of those, 131 were minority-owned business enterprises owned by African Americans, according to the Senate Democratic caucus.

“Our state spends millions of dollars on services and projects in our communities,” Sen. Elizabeth “Tizzy” Lockman, D-Wilmington, said. “But using taxpayer dollars to build and improve Delaware isn’t just about volume, it’s about direction too. We should be following that money, in order to have a full understanding of which contractors are being hired and how they are being selected.

“We ask such questions regularly in the General Assembly and I am glad to see that the conversation is expanding to cover diversity as well. Ultimately, it’s on us to make sure that minority-owned businesses have an equitable opportunity to contract with the state and have the same chances to grow that some of today’s largest companies had in decades past.”

The study will be conducted by the Office of Management and Budget working with the Department of Transportation, the Department of Health and Social Services and the Department of Correction. Up to $500,000 can be spent on it.

“For far too long, we’ve seen a lack of diversity in the contracts state government has issued for services,” Rep. Melissa Minor Brown, D-New Castle, said. “By establishing this review process, we are opening the door to opportunity. We are looking for the opportunity for good and qualified Black-owned businesses to ‘break through’ the network of long-established companies to prove themselves every bit as good — and possibly even better — than some of these other companies.

“This is about getting a foot in the door to ensure that minority-owned businesses have a chance to succeed, and that our state contracts reflect our society. There are plenty of good business owners out there just looking for that opportunity, and we want to look for ways to open that door.”

The results of the study are due by the end of June 2021.