City seeks more minority-owned business participation

By HASKEL BURNS,

In order to increase opportunities and participation for minority-owned businesses in Hattiesburg, Ward 5 Councilman Nicholas Brown and other city officials are encouraging eligible entrepreneurs to register as a Disadvantaged Business Enterprise, opening the door to state and federal projects.

Under the terms of the enterprise, socially and economically disadvantaged business owners – including women, African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans and Asian Americans – who own at least a 51 percent interest of the business may be eligible to qualify as a DBE.

“I’m doing it to help out minority businesses and contractor businesses, to help them get ahead,” Brown said. “We have companies that do a lot of our contract work now that have gotten ahead over the years, and have gotten rich off of the back of the city.

“I just want to put something together, a policy in place, that will help these businesses that are disadvantaged. Companies that are DBE-qualified are at a low rate right now, but there’s opportunities to reach out to those that can be qualified; it’s just a matter of getting the information to them.”

To be regarded as economically disadvantaged, an individual must have a personal net worth that does not exceed $1.32 million. In addition, a business owner must meet “small business” criteria of the Small Business Administration and have average annual gross receipts not to exceed $23.98 million.

The DBE program is designed to ensure nondiscrimination, create a level playing field for businesses, and keep money in the local community. The program stipulates that at least 10 percent of the amounts made available for any federal aid highway, mass transit and transportation program must be expended with certified DBEs.

To become DBE-certified, a business owner must apply for certification through the statewide Unified Certification Program (UCP).

“We know that right now, only two of the folks that we do business with are certified through the UCP process, and there are only 200 in the state that are certified in the process,” Mayor Toby Barker said. “So the first thing we have to do is encourage our minority-owned businesses to go through the process – that’s the first step.

“Also, we want to address our own purchasing procedures in terms of how it spends its money – whether we’re going to put a percentage on the money that we spend being steered to DBEs, or how we’re setting goals to how we’re going to make these investments.”

Officials also are looking at the possibility of instituting a city-centric DBE policy, which could incorporate businesses owned by military veterans, disabled individuals and members of the LGBT community. Other individuals could be considered on a case-by-case basis.

“Creating a local process would probably broaden the scope even more, particularly when it comes to how city and local dollars are spent,” Barker said.

Brown will now seek to have additional dialogue with the mayor and other council members, as well as contractors and business owners.

“(We want) to get them on the same page, and hopefully in the near future we can put something in place,” Brown said. “It’s just a matter of time and dialogue. I don’t have a definite date on it, but I would hope within a year’s time we could put something in place.”