New York City

Touting New York’s MWBE opportunities

Chief Business Diversity Officer Michael Garner and other experts detail progress made on equity at City & State’s 2024 Diversity Summit.

New York City Chief Diversity Officer Michael Garner.

New York City Chief Diversity Officer Michael Garner. Rita Thompson

Last year, New York City awarded $6.3 billion in contracts to MWBE firms, the most of any government entity in the nation. With this momentum, the Adams administration is aiming to be on track to meet its inclusivity goals of awarding $25 billion in contracts to MWBE firms by 2026, with increases to $60 billion by 2060. 

That’s the message New York City Chief Business Diversity Officer Michael Garner delivered in a keynote address at City & State’s 2024 Diversity Summit on Thursday. Garner led his keynote address at the event held at Baruch College with details on the Adams administration’s progress on MWBE contracting. He added that the administration will release a request for proposals for a centralized construction mentoring program. 

“This program is going to allow us to consolidate 10 construction agencies in the city of New York under one umbrella and will allocate projects to the centralized construction mentoring program, which was created by the NYC School Construction Authority. [And] we are going to further diversify the construction industry,” Garner told attendees.

The new program will include waivers of surety bonding and policy changes benefitting contractors, such an increased bidding opportunities and faster payments. In order to advance MWBE spending, the Adams administration aims to keep a close eye on non-mayoral agencies, given that they represent 70% of the city’s budget. 

“The mayor has also issued a number of executive orders. One of those was to have non-mayoral agencies be in line with mayoral agencies for the first time,” said Garner. “They are reporting their data to us. So certainly, I'm focusing on those five agencies to make sure that they are aligned with the vision of Mayor Adams.” 

But on the ground, MWBE businesses are still experiencing systemic barriers of entry that prevent them from becoming competitive applicants.

“Seventy percent of MWBE deal with some type of discrimination, just getting their business off the ground. If you're an MWBE, you're more likely to deal with challenges when it comes to getting the loans, being able to get the bonding, to be able to get the technical assistance, and you're more likely to deal with staffing shortages,” said Jason Clark, executive vice president of the division of minority and women's business development at Empire State Development, who served on a panel discussion after Garner made his remarks. 

Clark also spoke of the agency’s willingness to address backlogs in the MWBE certification processes. 

“The mission of the program is not to get folks certified, the mission of the program is to connect them with state procurement opportunities. Now if someone's looking to get certified […] we’re telling people that it takes 90 to 120 days, but on average, we're getting it done in less than 90 days,” Clark said. “The next step that we're working on is figuring out how we can be able to collaborate even more with our agencies and authorities early in the process to expand the opportunities that are available. 

Yet according to experts, the greatest obstacle facing MWBE businesses is their access to capital funding. State Sen. James Sanders, Jr., chair of the Select Majority Task Force on Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprises, teased an imminent “historic” city investment.

“The main problem that I see is still access to capital. After all is said and done it’s going to come down to, can you get a capital? I've been meeting with the state Comptroller and the City Comptroller and the head of finance of the city on this issue, and you will hear some breakthroughs fairly soon. We're talking a lot of money. They sit on close to a trillion dollars with these pension funds etc. So we're talking a major, imminent historic breakthrough,” Sanders told attendees. 

Garner chose inspirational words to motivate attendees to seize on MWBE opportunities. 

“Do not quit before your miracle,” he said. “We are moving forward in a very inclusive way of creating the most diverse program in history.”