Minority contract goals still justified, businesses say

Local,Len Lazarick

Minority set-asides for government contracts are still needed, businesspeople and public officials insisted at the annual meeting of the MD. Washington Contractors Association on Friday.

Comptroller Peter Franchot said the state also needs to do much more to open upopportunities for minority- and women-owned businesses to win state contracts for information technology and financial services, two areas "very resistant" to the practice.

"I hope in time we will not need to have MBE inclusion," said Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett, who was named Best Inclusive Leader Of The Year For Minority Business Enterprise an award by the association. "That day is not here." Leggett said he makes inclusion of minority businesses part of his evaluation of department heads "to make sure we leave no one out of this very strong economy."

"There are some barriers to entry" for a women-owned construction business, said Cedalia Luis, a second-generation member of M. Luis Construction of Baltimore. Women have to work longer hours and harder "to gain respect."

Lenzie Johnson, president of L&J Construction, honored as the Minority Business Enterprise of the Year, objected to the notion that minority contractors raise the cost of projects. In his experience, general contractors used minorities to lower their bids, since MBE often charged below-average prices.

Organizations such as the Minority Contractors Association might be "annoying" but "are still necessary to level the playing field," said state Sen. Catherine Pugh, a Baltimore City Democrat. Many minority businesses find "there is no place for them at the table of opportunity," Pugh said.

That is particularly true when it comes to the investment firms chosen to handle parts of the portfolio for the $40 billion state pension fund, Pugh said. She said qualified MBEs should be getting 10 percent of that business.

Franchot, who received an award for his MBE advocacy, agreed that the state needed to hire more minority investment firms and software companies. He noted that twice he held up large contracts for Microsoft vendors who had no minority enterprises participating, and won concessions from Microsoft on involved MBE as resellers of their software.

Whiting-Turner Contracting Co. of Baltimore, a $4 billion firm, was honored by the association as contractor of the year.

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