Following the MTA's lead on MWBEs

Michael Garner MTA
Michael Garner MTA
Ali Garber
MTA Chief Diversity Officer Michael Garner

Following the MTA's lead on MWBEs

As NY aims to boost MWBEs, mentorship programs can make a difference.
February 15, 2018

New York City and New York state have set lofty goals for minority- and women-owned business enterprises, or MWBEs. Both New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo want 30 percent of government contracts to go to businesses owned by minorities or women.

To reach those goals, the two elected officials may benefit from looking to mentorship programs at the New York City School Construction Authority and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which help MWBEs obtain contracts so they can gain experience and continue growing.

The MTA’s Small Business Mentoring Program began in 2010, and has been spearhead by the authority’s Chief Diversity Officer Michael Garner. The agency brought him on to replicate the successful program from the city’s School Construction Authority, which dates back to 1993.

The MTA’s mentorship program gives small firms hands-on experience by providing them opportunities to bid on contracts. In the past four years, more than $65 million in contracts have been awarded through the program.

“Certified firms, as opposed to working as subcontractors to a larger contractor, they will bid on and complete projects for the largest transportation network in North America as a prime contractor where they will be in control of their own destiny,” Garner said.

He added that by investing in small and emerging firms, the MTA helps them expand, creating more jobs, increasing tax revenue and allowing them to take on more government contracts in the future.

That has helped the MTA become one of the leading agencies and authorities in awarding MWBE contracts. Last year, the MTA awarded more than $387 million to MWBEs, more than any other state agency.

In New York City, the top agency for MWBE contracts was the Department of Design and Construction, which awarded more than $570 million last year. A few years ago, the agency joined forces with the School Construction Authority on a combined mentorship program.

Garner has been advising de Blasio and Cuomo on expanding MWBE initiatives. At a policy event hosted by City & State in January, Garner said both now tout the success of the MTA mentorship program as something that can be expanded to other agencies.

“You really can’t look at the cost of these programs as an expense,” he said. “You look at it as an investment.”

Both New York City and New York state have some kind of mentorship program for MWBEs, but they work differently than at the MTA. Rather than directly awarding contracts to emerging businesses, as the MTA does, both the city and state programs match smaller businesses with larger, more experienced ones that provide guidance on how to grow and compete. On the state level, participating MWBEs would be able to work as subcontractors to prime contractors on state projects. Although Garner was not involved in either of these initiatives, he said neither offer the same opportunities as the MTA.

Garner sees the MTA program as an incentive for small businesses and MWBEs to seek out government contracts and get certified, since the agency has already put together a program to help them get those contracts and grow.

“It’s almost like the old baseball movie ‘Field of Dreams,’” Garner said at the City & State event. “You build it, and they will come.”

Rebecca C. Lewis
is a staff reporter at City & State.