Minority contractors are missing out on business in Allegheny County because they haven't been bidding on available contracts, concludes a recent study from the University of Pittsburgh's University Center for Urban and Social Research and Center for Race and Social Problems. The report, from researcher Ralph Bangs, found that prime contracts have been made available to minority-owned construction, engineering and professional service firms, but that a lack of bids has kept them from the money.
This is likely because minority-owned enterprises are often smaller, younger and operating with less capital than majority-owned firms, making them less competitive in the bidding process. But the report says that discrimination may also play a role in why the former aren't getting contracts, though researchers didn't have enough cases to study. Minority businesses submitted only 12 bids out of 376 to the county in the first half of 2004. Only a quarter of those bids won the contract.
Earl Brooks, president of the Black Contractors Association, says discrimination is a "definite," even in what looks like a lack of initiative from minority-owned firms. For instance, minority-owned businesses were sometimes sent requests for bids much later than were majority-controlled firms.
"I may get a bid [request] that's for $100,000, and I get that info on Wednesday when it's due by Friday noon," says Brooks. Because of the costs involved in preparing a bid, "I'm taking one hell of a chance to try to get that done by Friday. The more astute businesses miss things mostly because there's not enough time."
Bangs' report notes that 49 percent of minority-owned businesses say they don't get their bids in because "bid information is sent too late or not at all." Fifty-five percent also blame a lack of contacts in the industry; 44 percent, the expense of preparing bids; 38 percent, their lack of success in the past; 31 percent, a perception of unfairness in the process, and 17 percent, a lack of technical knowledge to submit bids.
In a related development, the Black Contractors Association recently held a press conference to announce their dismay with the Pittsburgh Board of Education for considering a proposal to award all contracts higher than $25,000 to union contractors or non-union businesses that replaced 90 percent of their workforce with union workers. Brooks says that would all but eliminate minority enterprises from landing one of those contracts, since most of them have small workforces and can't afford to pay union wages.
Besides, says Brooks, union contractors are prevalent in only 20 percent of the industries that work with the school board. That cuts out 80 percent of the firms -- minority or not -- who could seek those contracts.
"Right now you have a level playing field that lets union and non-union contractors bid. It took 20 years to get us to that point, now they want to change it."