The Black Economic Council of Massachusetts is demanding a meeting with Gov. Charlie Baker, top cabinet officials and some legislators, saying that state is still not doing enough to help businesses run by minorities.
Segun Idowu, the executive director of BECMA, wrote Baker on Tuesday, after the GBH News Center for Investigative Reporting published an article showing the state is inflating its data on how much it spends with minority-owned businesses.
"Prior to and during the COVID-19 pandemic, BECMA and our partners have pushed to connect our members to reliable public contracts at the state and local level," Idowu wrote. "To date, the state and its capital city, Boston, have yet to move beyond single digits in its annual spend with Massachusetts-based Black- and other minority-ownded businesses."
It’s a similar letter to the one Idowu sent Baker in January after the GBH News revealed that minority business owners competing for state contracts were awarded $135 million less in 2018 than they were two decades ago based on inflation-adjusted dollars — a 24 percent decline.
Idowu’s coalition has more than 300 members statewide and is calling for Baker and lawmakers to invest at least $5 million next year in growing minority-owned businesses and to turn the Supplier Diversity Office into an independent agency with a bigger budget capable of better enforcement.
Idowu said the state ignored his January request.
Baker’s office told GBH News Friday that it’s already working to increase minority business participation in state construction contracts. The office did not say whether Baker or his cabinet officials will meet with Idowu this month.
When it comes to awarding state contracts, the economic council is calling for state agencies to follow a model piloted by the Massachusetts Port Authority that requires developers on major projects to have a minority partner at the start of the bidding process, rather than simply promising to later hire minority subcontractors.
Idowu said that investing in small, minority-owned business through grants and lending assistance is also key.
“Part of what we have been pushing for all this year has been about the creation of a fund that would be specifically for Black and Latino businesses to help them start up new businesses,” he said. “There's a huge responsibility on the state government to make sure that we're growing businesses [that] may not exist at the moment.”
Baker’s office says it has exceeded its minority contracting goals in recent years. That’s largely because of a policy shift in 2016 that began counting hundreds of millions of dollars of “indirect spending,” which includes payments state contractors made to minority-owned firms, regardless of whether those payments relate to a specific state contract.
Reggie Nunnally, who ran the Supplier Diversity Office from 2009 to 2015, said the policy skews how much the state is actually spending with minority businesses.
“Any company could basically say, ‘Look, I spent X amount of dollars with a minority firm,’” Nunnally said, “and how would they know?”