The Peoria County Board recently revitalized its Minority Business Ad-hoc Committee by appointing a new chairperson and pledging accountability to the minority-, women- and disadvantaged-owned businesses (collectively MBEs, for purposes of this article) the committee was designed to support. The ad-hoc committee was created in 2005 to address a glaring disparity between county dollars spent on contracts with and procurements from MBEs and dollars spent with other local businesses. Joining county board members on the ad-hoc committee are representatives from the Black Chamber of Commerce, local trade unions, institutes of higher education, private business and the faith-based community.
In the past three years, the committee has experienced much progress, most notably a nearly ten-fold increase in spending with minority-owned businesses over the previous five-year period. The County has also raised its bid threshold from $10,000 to $20,000. This serves two purposes: first, to eliminate some stereotypical bureaucracy associated with smaller projects and supplies; and second, to encourage greater response among local businesses competing for larger contracts. While increasing the bid threshold, we enhanced our website to further maximize participation in the bidding process. To simplify this process, our website now includes information on becoming a vendor, a vendor application and a bid registration form. Bids and requests for proposals continue to be posted at peoriacounty.org.
With assistance from the City of Peoria, Peoria Black Chamber of Commerce and other partner agencies, Peoria County was able to develop a comprehensive database of local minority-owned businesses. This database, as well as a modified purchasing form which helps us better track MBEs, ensures bid opportunities are extended to all qualified businesses. In addition to its efforts to award local MBEs more contracts, the ad-hoc committee has also seen success in capacity building through the County’s lead abatement training and licensing, and our Government Assistance Program, which offers financial assistance to business owners seeking to grow or entrepreneurs seeking to begin.
Having achieved these crucial first successes, the committee continues to work toward building capacity but has added sustainability of MBEs as another primary objective; both are in the forefront as the ad-hoc committee develops a mission statement and strategic plan. The mission statement will clearly define the committee’s intent to create an environment that fosters expansion of small business and serves as a catalyst for new enterprise. Goals established through the strategic planning process will guide the committee toward this purpose and hold its members accountable to the minority business owners they have promised to serve.
Under new leadership, the Minority Business Ad-hoc Committee has resumed momentum on its journey towards achieving equity within the business community and eliminating any need for a distinction of MBE, WBE or DBE. IBI