Last month, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle held a vendor diversity and inclusion virtual equity town hall, focusing on their Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprise (MWBE) Certification Program. Preckwinkle says it is a priority of her administration to increase opportunities for minority and women-owned businesses. “This priority is a reflection of our commitment to advancing racial equity. For too long, many local governments, including Cook County, tolerated discriminatory practices that adversely impacted the growth and full participation of minority and women-owned businesses in the government marketplace. Having inherited an antiquated system with a poor track record, I’m very proud of what we’ve accomplished. Our Office of Contract Compliance administers our M/WBE program in close collaboration with our Office of Procurement. Both teams work to ensure that we meet our goals.” President Preckwinkle highlighted a few statistics that spoke to their tremendous progress in the fiscal year 2019:
- Over $74 million on MBE and WBE contracts. This includes over $25 million to African American contractors; $18 million to Latin x contractors; $15 million to Asian contractors; and $14 million to women contractors.
- Since 2016, our payment to firms owned by African American women has increased by 75%; payment to firms owned by Asian women has increased by 150%, and payment to Latinx-owned firms and professional services has increased by 95%.
- Our recently completed Harrison Square Hyatt property is a project that speaks to our success in better diversity and inclusion. We renovated the historic old Cook County Hospital into a hotel, retail space, and a food hall and used an equity lens designing this transformation. We exceeded all our goals in hiring minority and women-owned firms. 75% of the vendors in the food hall are minority and women-owned businesses. Hiring locally and equitably were non-negotiable elements of this project.
President Preckwinkle proudly shared, “this provides a proof of concept when you center equity from the beginning, you achieve equitable results. And we all have a responsibility to do this in public and the private sectors. These numbers result from a commitment to equity and inclusion, coupled with close collaboration with the business community. The bottom line is this: for those who do want to work with Cook County, I’m proud to say we have one of the best programs in Illinois.” Joining Preckwinkle were members of her team including, Edward Olivieri, Cook County Director of Contract Compliance, and Denise Barreto, Director of Equity and Inclusion, who also served as the town hall moderator, hosted a knowledgeable and passionate panel. The panel consisted of community leaders, stakeholders, and local businesses for an open discussion about the current market, issues affecting the private sector amid COVID-19, and the significant impact of the M/WBE program on their respective businesses:
Vincent Williams, the 5th and new President and Executive Director of the Chicago Minority Supplier Development Council (CMSDC), the 3rd-party certified agency that focuses on certifying, advocating, connecting, and developing minority-owned businesses who are looking to obtain government contracts as well as with corporations throughout the state of Illinois, http://www.chicagomsdc.org/about/overview.
Rachel Canning, Co-founder of RL Canning, a WBE in business for over 20 years, provides IT-managed services. RL Canning is a prime vendor of Chicago Public Schools, https://www.rlcanning.com/cps-giving-back/.
Zollie Carradine, Certified Contractor and President of Ashlaur Construction, in business for 35 years and has been a certified MBE (minority business enterprise) with Cook County since 2014. Over the last couple of years, he has been a prime joint vendor on some projects within the County, https://www.ashlaurconstruction.com/.
The town hall provided a wealth of information on the importance of the County’s Minority and Woman-Owned Business (M/WBE) certification program. Business owners discussed the challenges they face as minority-owned and women-owned businesses amid a pandemic. Many stressed the need to be flexible and creative to keep their businesses afloat but admitted it was an incredibly stressful time.
The CMSDC also spoke about the challenges in running contract compliance for the city and the new paths they are forging for minority and women-owned businesses in Chicago. Edward Olivieri, Cook County Director of Contract Compliance, said, “The biggest challenge of running the contract compliance for the County is helping businesses adapt to the constantly changing business environment. Over the last ten years, we’ve seen [increased use of] social media and the shift to online sales impact businesses’ ability to maintain current and to be competitive in the marketplace. Additionally, minority and women-owned businesses tend to be smaller and have problems accessing capital and mentorship. That’s why it’s so important to have organizations like the CMSDC and others that provide a tremendous amount of support to help small, minority businesses get off the ground, build the infrastructure necessary to be successful, and establish those networks that are critical to creating generational wealth and long-term growth and success”. Vincent Williams shared that the council has used technology to ensure they provide the same amount of content and value for minority-owned businesses, shifting to an online virtual environment.
Certification and having an equity lens on diversity remains a priority, according to President Preckwinkle. “This is a country in which there’s tremendous inequity, and inequity in our state and County as well. We in government have a particular obligation to try to address that inequity. One of the ways we can do that is to provide opportunities for MBE and WBEs. We are committed, partly because it’s our values and inclusion are good government”.
Business owners agreed that the council and President Preckwinkle’s work is vital for their businesses.
“I’ve been in business for 35 years, and without these programs, there’s no way that Ashlaur Construction would be in joint venture projects within the county right now.”- Zollie Carradine, Certified Contractor and President of Ashlaur Construction.
“One of my very first contracts was with Cook County health and hospital systems (CCHHS). When you’re in business for just under a year, it’s very difficult to have people believe in you and give you the opportunity to open up that door. We started with CCHHS as a strategic partner and had two consultants on that engagement. Over time and building credibility as an organization, we grew tremendously in owning a significant portion of that contract. – Rachel Canning, Co-founder of RL Canning
Residents can follow Board President Toni Preckwinkle on Facebook and view the replay of the entire town hall.
For more certification information and to apply, please visit the Office of Contract Compliance website at https://www.cookcountyil.gov/agency/contract-compliance. If you have questions or would like to reach out to Edward Olivieri, Director of Contract Compliance, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.