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Supplier diversity program takes small steps forward

Mark Parker



Mayor Ken Welch (center) speaks with attendees at the March 4 Grand Prix Fast Track minority and small business owner event. Photo: City of St. Petersburg.

St. Petersburg’s leadership continues working to increase opportunities for minority and women-owned businesses in the city by maximizing a long-awaited program’s impact.

During Thursday’s Committee of the Whole meeting, council members heard a fourth update on a key recommendation from the city’s disparity study. Latisha Binder, the first manager of the recently created the Office of Supplier Diversity (OSD), also shared the progress her department has made over the last few months.

The goal is to establish a draft ordinance’s framework for the Women and Minority Business Enterprise Program (WMBE) that helps the owners who need it the most – while avoiding potential legal pitfalls. Although the office is open and working to increase outreach, the initiative cannot officially launch until the city council approves the regulatory framework.

“We do feel a sense of urgency to get this wrapped up and completed,” said Tom Greene, assistant city administrator.

Councilmember Deborah Figgs-Sanders wants program officials to “step outside the box” to maximize its impact. She also believes the OSD’s name is unnecessarily vague and does not capture its intent.

She reiterated Greene’s statement that city officials made a significant investment into the city’s Disparity study and its subsequent recommendations. However, the time it has taken to implement is not a concern.

“Because hearing the concerns and the hurdles of some of the smaller businesses over the years, whenever we launch this, it has to be right,” Figgs-Sanders said. “Our first step can’t be a misstep.”

A graphic highlighting the program’s success metrics. Screengrab.

Binder highlighted over a dozen upcoming community outreach events. Bid opportunity and OSD email lists are part of that initiative.

However, Figgs-Sanders noted that many people would not attend the functions. Achieving inclusivity necessitates contacting people hesitant to join city programs, and she said officials must “get to those corners of the city.”

“This is St. Pete – we don’t do everything like everyone else does,” Figgs-Sanders said. “I want us to come out with a program that there’s no denying that we put every effort into making sure we reach the community that we’re here trying to reach.”

There has been recent progress. Binder relayed that the OSD meets with St. Pete Greenhouse’s leadership biweekly to discuss outreach plans, which include quarterly certification pop-up shops in various parts of the city.

Her office has increased efforts to include LGBTQ partners and conducts Small Business Enterprise collaboration meetings with local business and supplier diversity partners. The OSD also invited 92 small and minority business owners to its March 4 Grand Prix Fast Track event.

The Office of Supplier Diversity invited 92 small and minority business owners to the Fast Track event. Photo: City of St. Petersburg.

Figgs-Sanders noted the effectiveness of those outreach efforts remains unclear. Similarly, Councilmember Richie Floyd wants to see more community impact data moving forward.

He said the WMBE’s success measurements encapsulate what city officials hope to accomplish, but Floyd would also like to discern how the program affects the broader community. Greene expects some small business owners to receive after participating in city programs.

“It will be a challenge to quantify that,” he added. “But there will those impacts, and we’ll put our heads together about how we can better present that.”

Councilmember Ed Montanari remains concerned about potential legal challenges. National consultant Collette Holt told council members in December that “the federal courts are extraordinarily hostile to race and gender-based public contracting programs.”

However, city attorney Jeanine Smith Williams explained that an ordinance based on a thorough disparity study’s statistics supports the argument that a failure to act would make local officials complicit in market discrimination.

“The standard is that it (the program) has to be narrowly tailored,” Williams said. “For example, having a participation percentage based on availability rather than a quota.”

There is still time to discuss program parameters and challenges, as Greene said he would meet with council members individually over the next month. Those discussions could necessitate another Committee of the Whole meeting, but he hopes to bring a draft ordinance to a first public hearing in May or June.

For more information on the Office of Supplier Diversity, visit the website here.




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    March 31, 2023at3:35 pm

    Hooray systemic racism and sexism?

  2. Avatar

    Shirley Hayes

    April 5, 2023at3:28 pm

    I am trying to fully understand the goals here. It is possible that folk that may qualify actually do not clearly know what is being offered here.

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