Disparity study reveals unlevel playing field for local minority/women owned businesses

Published: Aug. 10, 2022 at 8:44 PM CDT
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ALEXANDRIA, La. (KALB) - A disparity study aimed at examining business contracting in Central Louisiana found that there is not a level playing field for minority and women-owned businesses when competing for city contracts.

The study, launched in June of 2020 and recently completed, was conducted by Keen Independent Research. The results showed more work still needs to be done to bridge the gap for equal opportunities.

The disparity study specifically looked at contract data from 2015-2019. Information was obtained through interviews, focus groups, surveys and town hall meetings.

The positives from the study showed that 77% of city contract dollars went to local businesses across Central Louisiana. According to the study, 30% of the local firms available for city contracts are owned by people of color or women (MBE/WBEs). Keen Independent did point out that the regional economy could suffer if the minority businesses were left behind.

However, out of the 1,680 city contracts and subcontracts from that four-year span, only 6% of those city contract dollars went to minority or women-owned businesses. This staggering percent is even less than the 20% that was expected prior to the study being conducted. Keen Independent said significant disparities are seen in African-American, Asian-American, Native American and white women-owned firms. Other data revealed that only about 3% of city contract dollars went to Hispanic American-owned businesses.

The study also showed comments about discrimination that were heard in the marketplace. Representatives at Keen Independent said the term “Good ol’ boy” network came up several times as having a negative effect on opportunities given to MBE/WBEs.

Alexandria Mayor Jeff Hall said this was the first time the City of Alexandria conducted a disparity study for businesses and that the results were eye-opening.

“We’re not happy with the inability to participate at a percentage that they want to participate in,” said Mayor Hall. “We want all people to have a fair share and a fair shot at being successful in business, and the only way to do that is to start doing that with a program that’s going to work. There have been programs in the past, but they didn’t work, not with six percent. It’s obviously not working.”

The disparity study goes on to show that the disadvantages do not extend to small businesses, as 88% of city contract dollars went to small businesses, just not to MBE/WBE small businesses.

To bridge the gap, Keen Independent recommended solutions and city initiatives to focus on. They advised the city to participate with other public, private and nonprofit partners in Central Louisiana to help start-up businesses access more opportunities.

To view the full study and the results, click here.

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