Cincinnati spent $27.9 million with women- and black-owned businesses in 2016

Big increase 'almost a miracle'

CINCINNATI -- Check this off the list of Mayor John Cranley's campaign promises.

During his run for mayor in 2013, Cranley pledged to boost the city's contracting with black-owned businesses to 15 percent of city spending within four years.

The goal seemed audacious after a series of years when the city issued 3 percent or fewer of its total contracts to black-owned companies.

But the city has managed to boost its spending with minority business enterprises to the point where black-owned companies won more than 17 percent of city contracts in 2016 -- a year ahead of schedule.

"That," Cranley said during a news conference Tuesday, "is huge progress."

Cincinnati City Manager Harry Black called the city's contracting turnaround "almost a miracle."

But city officials assured several dozen business people gathered for the news conference that the city isn't finished yet.

"Although we have accomplished much, we still have work to do," said Markiea Carter, the city's director of economic inclusion.

The city also has increased its spending with women-owned businesses, although not by nearly as much. Spending with women business enterprises went from about 5 percent of city contracts to 7.5 percent.

Those percentages translate to tens of millions of dollars.

In 2016, the city awarded $19.6 million in contracts to black-owned firms and $8.3 million to women-owned companies. In all, 96 different businesses owned by black entrepreneurs or women got city contracts last year, Cranley said.

Mayor John Cranley discusses the city's results.

The city also negotiated economic inclusion goals as part of privately funded economic development deals, Black and Cranley noted.

Through those deals, the city helped secure an additional $24.8 million in commitments from developers to award contracts to minority- and women-owned companies. Of that total, $8.2 million in those private contracts were awarded in 2016, with the balance to be awarded as the development projects proceed.

"That is huge when you think about the ability to bootstrap these requirements into the private sector," Cranley said. "And that is an area we will continue to grow."

The contracting changes have been the result of a years-long effort to change the way the city does business.

Cincinnati City Council voted in 2013 to commission a disparity study to provide a legal basis for changing its contracting policies so that the city could consider a business owner's race and gender when awarding contracts.

For a number of years, the city had a contracting policy that was race and gender neutral, and critics argued that approach resulted in unfair spending results.

Cincinnati City Council adopted the new approach in late 2015. Last year was the first full year of the new policies.

"Today represents another mile marker in our city on the journey to create economic inclusion for all of our citizens who seek to do business with the city of Cincinnati," said Paul Booth, a former city councilman who co-chaired a task force that recommended changes to the city's contracting policies. "We're not where we were, and we're not where we want or need to be. If we keep our eyes on the goal, not only will we reach that goal, but we will exceed that goal."

Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. She has been writing about women- and minority-owned businesses in Greater Cincinnati for nearly 20 years. To read more stories by Lucy, go to www.wcpo.com/may. To reach her, email lucy.may@wcpo.com. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.

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