Need work? Cincinnati may have a job for you

Posted at 6:12 AM, Dec 14, 2015

Do you repair fire boats? Replace building roofs? Paint traffic poles or street lights? Sell police body cameras? Or want to manage the Duke Energy Convention Center?

Then the city of Cincinnati may have a job for you.

Contracts for these jobs and dozens more are now online on the city of Cincinnati’s Open Data Portal.

A month ago the city began posting all major contracts online as a way to lure more small -- and minority and women-owned -- local businesses to bid on a bigger chunk of the roughly $400 million in work the city awards annually.

“We’re trying to say, ‘Hey we’re open, we’re inclusionary. So come on in and give us your business,” said Tom Corey, the city’s director of economic inclusion.

City manager Harry Black and Economic Inclusion Director Tom Corey

This is the latest step in a sweeping effort to address the fact that the city has awarded a tiny fraction of its hundreds of million of contracting dollars to businesses owned by women and minorities.

“I think it’s a huge win for our inclusion opportunities but also a huge win for taxpayers,” said Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley.

By posting contracts online, city leaders hope to attract more competition and new bidders that will ultimately lead to lower prices on everything from light bulbs to asphalt.

“I get this complaint all the time – ‘We don’t know what contract opportunities are available,’” Cranley said. “People don’t even know what the options are and what the city bids for. We found so many contracts were being renewed automatically without competition or awareness from competitors.”

The city began posting all contracts for jobs worth $50,000 or more online on Nov. 17. Since then it has received more than 2,300 page views – which is second only to the views for the city’s online building permits.

Now contractors don’t have to drive down to city offices and ask for copies of contracts or call for information about who won a bid.

“This is something that the vendor community has always asked us for,” said Patrick Duhaney, the city’s chief procurement officer. “And it helps us because it takes such a burden off our shop. We don’t have to constantly look through files and make copies.”

This also gives new business owners an easy way to see how winning contracts are written so they can duplicate the process in their own bids, Duhaney said.

Online contracts are just part of a massive shift in how the city does business. The portal was launched in April with 15 sets of data, such as restaurant inspections and how long it takes fire departments to respond. Since then, the city has been adding more data, such as contracts, for anyone to access, browse and export.

In May the city unveiled a new Office of Performance and Data Analytics that uses technology to make operations faster, cheaper and smarter.

“This transparency is going to lead to better government,” Cranley said. “The more we show how the city spends its money, the better.”

The city is also transforming how it awards contracts. This spring City Manager Harry Black created a review board so he and other top leaders can personally review each major contract the city awards.

As of Jan. 1, each major contract will post guidelines with percentages of work that must go to women and minority businesses. Smaller contracts will also be steered to these groups, as well as emerging local business.

This comes after a so-called Croson Study revealed in September that tiny slivers of city dollars were awarded to women- and minority-owned businesses between 2009 and 2013. That's the five-year period covered by the study, and it examined how more than $1.2 billion in contract dollars were spent.

“This is a whole culture change," Corey said. “We have to get these small businesses that are located in Cincinnati really going forward … if these businesses start being profitable, I can guarantee you will start to see an impact. As they grow, they will have to hire.”