U agrees to hire small companies for projects

Nancy Ngo

Richard Copeland noticed an influx of business with his construction company after 1979, when the University pledged to seek more services from small, minority-owned companies.
If the University gets funding for its massive $249 million construction and renovation campaign, Copeland’s Thor Construction is one of many businesses the school promises to give more contracts in upcoming months.
“I have been a beneficiary of the initiatives the University has taken,” Copeland said. He estimates that 10 percent of his business comes from the University.
His and other minority-owned businesses that range from real estate to service industries to wholesale and retail trade could benefit from preferential treatment in acquiring public contracts with Hennepin County and Minneapolis as well.
An agreement signed by University President Mark Yudof, Minneapolis Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton and Hennepin County Administrator Jeff Spartz combined their three similar policies into a unified effort. The agreement signed two weeks ago at a Board of Regents’ breakfast strengthened the board’s policy to grant preferential treatment to small or minority-owned businesses.
The Small Business Enhancement Agreement states that the three entities will work together in giving opportunities to small businesses, particularly those owned by women and people of color.
Program organizers said because the county and the city also have similar policies, they should work together with the University to share references and discuss strategies to be more inclusive of minority businesses when they contract out work. Future meetings will also focus on developing more programs to enhance skills and participation in small business ownership.
“This is a highly symbolic alliance between the governmental entities,” Yudof said. He said sharing resources will help increase the number of businesses owned by women and people of color that deal with the University on construction or purchasing products.
Copeland, who has worked with the school for more than 10 years, said it makes fiscal sense to use smaller businesses because they have fewer customers than corporations. He said this allows the consumer to get better prices and services.
Yudof said the University is already on its way to break participation records with minority-owned businesses. Since March, the school has struck deals with 23 percent of the state’s 1,336 small or minority-owned businesses.
Small businesses have less than 500 employees; minority-owned businesses include women, people of color and disabled persons.
Last year the University spent $28 million in contracts to such businesses, the largest amount since the program began.
Marvin D. Taylor, program manager for Minneapolis’ Small Business Enterprise Program, said there has been a growth of small businesses in the area. His office predicts that about 60 percent of all new jobs will come from these businesses within the next 10 years.
He said enhancing small businesses will be necessary in the future because discrimination in the marketplace still exists, especially for women and people of color.
“If there has been discrimination in employment, then they haven’t been able to develop those skills and contacts,” Taylor said.
Sayles Belton said she wants the agreement to make Minneapolis and the University more consumer-conscious. She said purchasing decisions, such as the napkins that are purchased to what insurance companies are used, make a difference in improving skills and business for smaller entities.
“I don’t think we stop to think about our impact as much as we should,” she said.