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Thursday, September 23, 2021

New County Initiative Seeks To Increase Opportunities For Small, Minority And Women-Owned Businesses

King County Executive Dow Constantine

By Aaron Allen, The Seattle Medium

King County and the Washington state Office of Minority and Women’s Business Enterprises (OMWBE) will expand access to the county’s procurement and contracting opportunities for state certified minority– and women-owned businesses through the implementation of a Fast Track Small Contractor and Supplier certification program.

Since the adoption of Washington State Initiative-200 in 1998, King County’s Contracting Opportunities Program has been designed as a race- and gender-neutral program intended to support the participation of small businesses in county contracting. Although the program has been race and gender neutral, the program has historically taken affirmative actions to increase participation in public contracting by underrepresented groups.

Since 2016, the County has exceeded its goals for the participation of certified small contractors and suppliers (SCS) in the program and awarded more than $280 million dollars to these small businesses for an average of $56 million annually.

“I am excited that council has approved my legislation that increases contract opportunities for small businesses owned by minorities, women and socially and economically disadvantaged people,” says King County Executive Dow Constantine.  “This is consistent and follows with my pro-equity contract and executive order that I signed a few months ago.”

“This is one of many steps we are taking in our quest to create economic justice and leverage the tremendous amounts of public investment that’s happening to help minority firms grow,” continued Constantine.

OMWBE and King County have been working together to put into place a Fast Track Small Contractor and Supplier (SCS) Certification program that will help in accessing the county’s procurement and bidding process and contracting opportunities for state certified minority- and women-owned businesses.

Historically, King County and the OMWBE have different eligibility size standards for small business certification. King County’s size standards are set a 50% of the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) size standards, while OMWBE size standards are equal to 100% of the U.S. SBA size standards. This legislation would require King County amend the Contracting Opportunities Program ordinance to match the State’s OMWBE size standards.

“The idea of this particular legislation is to align King County’s certification requirements with both state certification requirements and the requirements of the OMWBE and to make those requirements reciprocal between the county and the state,” says Constantine.

“It is designed to make it easier for minority and women owned business to get certified to do business with the county and to allow that certification to work for the state and vice versa,” Constantine continues.

According to King County officials, the benefits and importance of the Fast Track SCS Certification process include eliminating the redundancy in certification processes that have overlapping eligibility criteria. In addition, the certifying entities can be confident that every certified business has received the same level of eligibility review before being certified to participate in its programs.  The efficiencies gained can be significant because applicant business owners are required to have their certification eligibility approved by the County or the OMWBE to receive the benefits afforded to these businesses in the competitive public procurement process.

“This legislation benefits both small-business owners and the county by providing a level of certainty that had been missing while eliminating the redundancy that for too long muddied the process,” said King County Councilmember Pete von Reichbauer.  “In streamlining the certification process, these businesses are able to enter the competitive procurement process confident they are all starting at the same level.”

For the maximum benefit of diverse and small businesses OMWBE Executive Director Lisa van der Lugt believes that this is a fine example of how government and enterprise can partner together to access easier.

“We are thrilled that King County is partnering with OMWBE to make it easier for minority- and women-owned businesses to access the county’s certified Small Contractors and Suppliers program,” said van der Lugt. “This is a fine example of a local jurisdiction making use of the resources OMWBE provides for the maximum benefit of small and diverse businesses in Washington State.”

Lawrence Pitre, President of the Seattle Central Area Chamber of Commerce believes in the importance of this legislation in that it creates opportunity.

“Well at this point I think this is very important,” says Pitre. “It creates opportunity for businesses within the community and it allows through certification the opportunity to bid on platforms that we normally wouldn’t be a part of. I think that there are several things that can allow us to be a part of this and one thing is becoming certified, getting your businesses certifications.”

According to Constantine, removing these barriers that have hindered minority owned businesses and simplifying the bureaucracy that it takes for them to secure the necessary funding it takes for businesses to survive and thrive in today’s economy will help in the revitalization of the Black and minority business sector.

“This week’s announcement removes one more hurdle faced by minority- and women-owned firms and will broaden the pool of contractors at both the county and the state,” said Constantine. “Expanding access to County resources and programming, such as procurement and contracting, is crucial to meeting our goal of advancing pro-equity policies that give all businesses the opportunity to thrive.”

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