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LFUCG begins Certification requirement for Minority and Women Owned Businesses

Click here for a portion of a Key Conversations interview with Ms. Clark and Director of Purchasing Brian Marcum.

Initiative part of roll out by new MBE Liaison

By Patrice K. Muhammad

It was recently announced that Lexington Fayette Urban County Government (LFUCG) would only honor Minority and Women Owned Business (M/WBE) designations from companies that have gone through a recognized certification process. Beginning January 1, 2011 all businesses classified on the city’s Economic Engine, as M/WBE will have been certified. Currently, companies were allowed to “self designate” themselves as a minority or woman owned business.

Marilyn Clark was recently hired as Minority Business Enterprise Liaison within the Division of Purchasing. Clark explains the new requirement for those who want to be classified as M/WBE with their system. She said, “This will validate that they are in fact such.” According to Clark, most minority owned businesses are already certified, “Because it is such a common practice.”

There are in fact several minority business owners that have not previously felt the need to go through certification process citing it as a tedious and time-consuming process that includes the review of their company records and a site visit from the certifier.

Sonja Smith works for her father’s company Claude Smith Painting and Wallpapering. She said that her company began a certification process before but it was cost prohibitive. “We started the process but did not complete it because there were fees involved.” Smith feels that they have not missed out on much business due to their lack of certification because they get business based on their good work. “Since my dad has been in business for 25 years we have developed relationships with general contractors who appreciate the work we do. We have done a lot of work on LFUCG projects and housing authority properties.”

The Smith’s company has been contracted to do the paintwork on the Lyric Theatre project.

Smith said that her company is listed as a minority business with LFUCG currently and as of this interview, had not heard about the new requirement. However, she was concerned about the potential loss of business. “The economy has put a strain on us already. Anything that would take time or money away from our business would an additional strain.”

The cities process is not meant to be discriminatory. It is just meant to categorize businesses. “A minority or woman owned business that chooses not to go through the certification process will not be kicked out of the system. They will continue to receive bid information based on their commodity codes. [However,] they will not be designated as a minority or woman owned business in our Economic Engine data base,” explains Clark. “Because they’re not on the list as a certified minority owned business they may miss opportunities when anyone requests lists or they may miss out on events that go out only to that list of certified MBE’s.”

Before accepting this position, Clark was a full time business owner. She is founder and president of WorkSmart, LLC that is a training and consulting firm. She has gone through the certification process and says that her business was helped by it. “There were companies that would not recognize me as a minority owned business with out it,” she said.

Knowing that the cost and time of certification has created barriers for some business owners, Clark compiled a list of certifying agencies that include some that are free to the business owner. The list has several agencies listed and includes their fees, which range from free to $450 annually; the process time which ranges from 40-90 days; and other requirements which include the supplying of tax returns, financials, articles or incorporation, site visits and proof of ethnicity.

LFUCG requires that business owners use a certifying agency that is on their list or one that includes a site visit.

New position should increase use of Minority Businesses

Clark advises all business owners to consider certification and doing business with LFUCG. “There are over 500 commodity codes and I want to help businesses make contacts with specific buyers or developers that could use them. I’m trying to get to know people. I think what was missing before was human contact.” Clark said that her department wants to reach more people who supply professional services like engineering, consulting and legal services and even project managers. According to Clark there are 40-50 divisions that have the authority to make direct purchases from vendors for smaller dollar amounts, sometimes $1000 or less, without bid notice.

The Division of Purchasing will begin asking if minority companies were considered and require each LFUCG division to have M/WBE participation numbers in their spending reports.

In a May 2010 report, LFUCG spent 6.032% with M/WBE businesses. Women owned businesses received 5.135% and Minority Business .0898%. The less than 1% rate spent with minorities has been consistent since tracking began. The addition of Clark is expected to help the city change that rate.

Companies may register at https://lfucg.economicengine.com and can reach Marilyn Clark for LFUCG’s preferred list of certifying agencies at 859-258-3323.

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