Mayor Sharon Weston Broome’s administration has sent a letter to the local engineering community, calling for greater inclusion of small, minority, women and veteran-owned businesses in the MovEBR road improvement program.
The letter is raising eyebrows in the local engineering community, not so much because it is encouraging greater participation of what are traditionally referred to as Disadvantaged Business Enterprises, or DBEs, but because it sets what appears to be a target number for DBE participation.
“From its inception, the MovEBR Program was designed to positively impact all areas of East Baton Rouge Parish and it is our intention to aspire to a 20% participation by minority, women and veteran-owned businesses,” writes Department of Transportation and Drainage Director Fred Raiford in a letter dated Feb. 6.
The letter goes on to suggest that proposals submitted last month to do engineering design work for the program didn’t include enough DBE subcontractors.
“From our initial round of proposals submitted to work on MovEBR projects, it is evident the capacity of local small, minority, women and veteran-owned companies is not yet being fully utilized,” he writes. “If your firm is considering submitting to provide professionals services on a MovEBR project, I encourage you to look for opportunities to team with these small businesses.”
Unsurprisingly, officials with local engineering firms already working with the city-parish or hoping to in the future decline to comment publicly on the letter, though privately they are concerned about the 20% figure cited in the letter and question whether there are enough qualified firms to meet that goal.
Doreen Brasseaux, president of the American Council of Engineering Companies of Louisiana, says she has heard from a few members who have questions about the letter, though she says her phone is not ringing off the hook. For the moment, she is trying to find out more information.
“We share the city’s desire to promote small business. That is not an issue,” she says. “It’s just now that they have established this number that is their aspiration we want to understand better why they came up with that number.”
Raiford tells Daily Report he carefully worded the letter to say that 20% is only a goal, not a quota or a requirement under the MovEBR program.
“We would like for it to be 20 percent. We didn’t say it had to be 20 percent,” he says. “The letter says we aspire to be at 20 percent. The push is to get DBEs involved in the program.”
Raiford says the first round of contractors selected in late January to do engineering design work for the program did a good job including DBEs but that the proposals overall could have included more.
“I should have sent this letter out before the first round of procurement,” he says. “All I’m trying to do is follow up on what we have said all along. No one has come in and pressed the button. We’re just trying to be consistent with our message that we want to encourage DBE participation.”