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GSO Business League stresses minority economic development

N.C. Representatives Pricey Harrison (District 61) and Ashton Clemmons (District 57); former state Rep. Earl Jones (GSO Business League); Tony Copeland, N.C. Sec. of Commerce; State Sen. Gladys Robinson (District 28) and Gerry McCants (Black Pages and GSO Business League) attend a meeting with Guilford County residents on equity in state contracting at New Light Missionary Baptist Church in Greensboro.
Photo by Ivan S. Cutler/Carolina Peacemaker

The Greensboro Business League met with members of the Guilford County State delegation and Sec. Anthony Copeland, N.C. Secretary of Commerce to discuss future economic development opportunities for local underserved communities.

The two-hour meeting was held at New Light Missionary Baptist Church on April 8.

“African Americans are investing into a government that does not give us a return on our investment. We pay into a tax system and we do not receive the return as other communities do. African Americans want our fair share. If the government wants our support with our tax dollars, then the government has to support us with economic stimulation,” said Rev. C. Bradley Hunt, 2nd VP of the NAACP Greensboro branch.

The North Carolina Department of Commerce is the state’s lead agency for economic, community and workforce development. The department works to connect local, regional, national and international organizations to economic development opportunities across the state. However, contract spending is not under the direction of the Department of Commerce.

Copeland said that when the state looksw at companies to recruit, prospective employees across the state must possess the right skill-sets and education - two important factors companies require. With N.C. A&T State University in Greensboro being the top producer of Black engineers, it is the largest college of engineering in the state, something Copeland touted as an asset to the community.

The state currently has a 3.9 percent unemployment rate, which is only slightly above the 3.8 percent federal unemployment rate. Copeland noted that N.C. Works, the state’s workforce development agency, is being retooled to create a pipeline for people to find new jobs and careers of the future.

Karl Robinson (center) with R&R Transportation and Cameron Cooke (right), a former member of the Greensboro City Council. Photo by Ivan S. Cutler/Carolina Peacemaker
“Today we have 16 campuses of a university system; we turn out thousands of graduates a year into the workforce. But skill sets have got to be different. Education now is not a one time thing. Its imperative we have a system in place that’s going to continue to upscale education,” he said.

To bid on state contracts, a minority owned business must be certified through the N.C. Department of Administration (DOA) Historically Underutilized Business (HUB) office. According to Copeland, out of the 183,000 minority owned businesses in North Carolina, less than 4,000 are HUB certified.

N.C. DOA HUB reports that for FY 2017-2018, out of $7 billion spent on the purchase of goods and services, minority firms received 386 million or less than six percent of the total spending. State construction with HUB participation totaled $189 million or 34 percent.

Recent figures from the City of Greensboro show out of the $251.6 million in business contracts awarded in 2018, only 2.6 percent or $6.5 million went to minority businesses. Guilford County reported that only four percent of its Fiscal Year 2018 purchasing payments went to African American owned firms.

The GBL, an organization designed to encourage and advocate for African American businesses in the city, has already addressed the Greensboro City Council, Guilford County Commission and the Guilford County School Board on the lack of minority participation in contracts awarded to businesses.

Earl Jones, co-founder of the Greensboro Business League, suggested the formation of a state commission to ensure economic empowerment for African Americans. He referred to The Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), a federal-state partnership that was developed to work with the people of Appalachia to create opportunities for self-sustaining economic development.

“Our goal (GBL) is to get more revenue into Black businesses and grow Black economic empowerment. We need some type of commission to ensure Black economic empowerment, modified to address urban development needs,” said Jones. “We also need a state disparity study that shows the systemic racism and discrimination that has taken place over the years.”

Meeting attendees also suggested that a stream of funding be added to the legislation that could go towards assisting small, minority-owned businesses.

Karl Robinson, owner of R&R Transportation noted that the state online HUB system is outdated and doesn’t allow for a complete and detailed search for a company or a service.

“The way the HUB system is set up is outdated. It’s not for today. A lot of us have to do a small part of a larger industry in order to compete. It doesn’t address small, niche businesses,” he said.

Chair of the Guilford delegation, District 28 state Sen. Gladys Robinson, along with District 57 Rep. Ashton Clemmons, and District 61 Rep. Pricey Harrison were also on hand to discuss the legislature’s role in providing economic opportunities.

“It’s critical that we approach economic development in a way that broadens the ability for all people to pursue life, liberty and happiness. Minority owned businesses are continually marginalized out of many of our strategies we approach as a state to economic development,” said Rep. Clemmons.

Sen. Robinson has already sponsored multiple bills in the state Senate for small businesses, including SB 166, the Greensboro/Small Business Enterprise, in February 2019 to encourage higher minority participation in municipal government contracts.

“Democrats are not the majority right now. We’ve sponsored bills that didn’t get passed. But we will continue to push for equity across the board. Keep in mind that a lot of decision making in terms of what minority participation is used and contracts awarded, is up to your local delegation,” said Sen. Robinson.

The lawmakers in attendance said they would add the community’s suggestions to the state House of Representative’s bill draft that has to be filed by the session’s April 17 deadline.