Working to Empower Minority and Women-Owned Business Owners in a Changing Environment

Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown said, “There are a lot of opportunities for minority-owned businesses. It starts with giving them information and education.”

Buffalo, NY – With Western New York focused on infrastructure improvements and several large construction projects over the next few years, Northland Workforce Training Center and local lawmakers are working to involve minority and women-owned businesses.

On Saturday, a workshop was held to familiarize the aforementioned business owners and understand the registration and certification process for New York State’s Minority and Women-Owned Businesses Program (MWBE).

Changes to the program, run by the Empire State Development Corporation, were made back in October by signing a series of laws aimed at reducing fraud and strengthening the program, according to Gov. Kathy Hochul’s office.

Since then, workshops have been held to introduce the new process and generate renewed interest among property owners looking to bid for state contracts. While the MWBE program operates across all sectors, Saturday’s focus was on construction.

“Historically, in the construction industry, there hasn’t been a lot of diversity, equity and inclusion,” said Stephen Tucker, president of Northland Workforce Training Center.

According to an ESD report, in the 2021-2022 fiscal year, MWBE plans to pay out more than $3 billion in state contracts, with 56% of project “use and expenditure” occurring in the construction sector.

“There are so many opportunities for minority-owned businesses, starting with providing them with information and education,” Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown said at Saturday’s symposium.

Last fiscal year, the state also reported exceeding its goal of awarding more than 30 percent of state contracts to MWBE candidates. April Baskin, chairwoman of the Erie County Legislature, said that while state programs require a certain percentage of minorities and women to participate, those goals are often not achieved because there are often not enough candidates.

“You know we don’t have to do 30 percent, we can go beyond that,” Baskin said.

Mayor Brown said, “It’s about expanding the pool of resources…you’re going to see 50 minority and women-owned businesses…we know there are more here.”

Tucker added that with the workshop on Saturday, “we can ensure that we have a qualified workforce, we can ensure that entrepreneurs have the credentials and qualifications to enter the construction industry.”

Projects such as building the new Bill Stadium and rebuilding parts of the Kensington Highway will have a few demands, but lawmakers are aware that without a candidate the work will go elsewhere.

As for whether the recently passed changes to the MWBE system will reduce fraud, time will tell. A database of certified contractors is now available to the public, which will make it easier to verify a company’s status.

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