N.O. City Council takes steps to strengthen minority-owned businesses

The New Orleans City Council’s Economic Development Committee signed off Tuesday on a collection of amendments proposed by Mayor Mitch Landrieu to strengthen the city’s disadvantaged business enterprises program, sending it on for final approval by the full council later this month.

The amendments will give Landrieu’s administration the leeway to terminate deals with contractors who fail to comply with the city’s disadvantaged business goal, which is set at 35 percent.

That means the city will have an enforcement mechanism that it can use after awarding a contract, rather than simply asking a contractor show an effort to include disadvantaged businesses in his proposal.

The changes also will allow the administration to adjust where that goal is set on particular contracts according to the availability of disadvantaged businesses in one sector or another, a change the city said may either raise or lower the target in any particular case.

The amendments passed easily, with few objections raised by council members and supportive remarks from other local officials.

“In the last 20 years of my adult life in this city, I’ve worked with a whole lot of administrations to get us to equity,” said Judith Dangerfield, who serves on the mayor’s Economic Development Advisory Committee.

“I will say this administration has taken the strongest stance on equity and is not afraid to say the word.”

The committee meeting came just a day after Landrieu and the New Orleans Business Alliance unveiled a five-year economic plan to bring more well-paying jobs to the city, a blueprint that included equity as one of its themes.

On Tuesday, staff from the Mayor’s Office briefed council members on the plan and gave an update on the administration’s progress so far in reworking the disadvantaged business program.

The program seeks to ensure small local businesses owned by minorities and women get a fair share of city contracts.

Arkebia Matthews, director of the mayor’s Office of Supplier Diversity, told council members that her department has doubled the number of disadvantaged businesses registered with the city to 600 and shortened the certification process to 45 days from a year.

She said 34 percent of the value of all city contracts went to disadvantaged businesses last year, up from 16 percent in 2010.