City officials hope a seemingly small charter change approved by Syracuse lawmakers will have a big impact for minority- and women-owned businesses.
The Syracuse Common Council last week approved a proposal to move the city’s former Minority and Women Owned Business Enterprises division under the control of the city’s budget director. The department will now be called the Division of Equity Compliance and Social Impact.
The name change is just the latest adjustment to the department, which has been evolving for the last year. Along with the name change, budget director Tim Rudd said the city hopes to:
- Shorten and digitize its certification application for businesses to be on the city’s list of approved MWBE contractors
- Digitize the list of MWBE contractors
- Start using software to more effectively track payroll information and contracts with MWBE contractors and subcontractors, rather than using paper systems
Rudd said city officials hope the changes make it easier for businesses to get on the city’s list of MWBE contractors and make it easier for the city to track whether it is sufficiently contracting with businesses that demographically represent the city.
“There’s a bunch of laws we have that are structured to maximize the impact of our spending,” Rudd said. “So, this idea that the way in which you spend your money matters, and this is going to more properly do that.”
Until last year, the city only aimed for 20% of its contracts to be with minority- and women-owned businesses. In 2022, the city upped its goal to 30%, which is in line with Onondaga County and New York State.
The city’s own data shows it may be falling short on awarding contracts to businesses that employ a workforce that looks like the city. Rudd admitted the city’s payroll data for contractors is incomplete, but about 85% of the reported $6 million in wages coming from city contracts since 2016 have gone to white men.
“I do think the data we have reinforces that there is a lot of work that’s done for the city that doesn’t always look like the city as a whole,” Rudd said.
The overhaul began when the city received a $1 million grant last year from Bloomberg Philanthropies to revamp its purchasing department, which handles contracts. In addition to the grant, the city hired a fellow, Mia Capone, through the Harvard University Kennedy School’s government performance lab.
Rudd said the department had spotty records from contractors and contractors that failed to entirely detail their payrolls.
According to Rudd, the city has long operated with mostly paper systems, hampering its ability to track its goals for doing business with minority- and women-owned businesses. Most of those goals center on the percent of the money it spends that goes to contracting and subcontracting companies owned by women and people of color.
As part of the overhaul, Rudd said the department will be hiring for two positions: an assistant director and an analyst. The city already put together a search for the assistant director but plans to hire an analyst after it hires the assistant director.
Rudd and the city believe that moving the department under the budget director will allow the city to create a long-term purchasing plan. By identifying the contracts the city struggles to attract local businesses to take on earlier in the process, it can do outreach to find local businesses to contract with, Rudd said.
Over time, the revamped online systems will allow for better tracking of contracts and payroll data, which Rudd believes will allow the city to better hit its goals.
“It’s either going to say we’ve moved the needle and we’re getting a more diverse workforce or the work being done is not being done really by people who look like the typical resident,” Rudd said.