Are minority-owned businesses still skeptical to do business with the government?

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By Glenn Townes

It's been nearly one year since the longest shutdown of the federal government in American history –about five weeks—ended. Despite lukewarm assurances from the Trump Administration that another such shutdown is unlikely, thousands of minority and women owned business enterprises (MWBE's) across the country, including many in New Jersey remain skeptical and recalcitrant when it comes to securing government contracts. Add to the mix the irascibility from an obtrusive POTUS, the question remains--can small business owners who depend on federal grants and loan programs continue to rely on the federal government to do its job?

The partial federal government shutdown last January, involuntarily furloughed more than 800,000 government workers and thousands of government agency contractors and vendors, including thousands in New Jersey. Many of the contractors and vendors never recouped funds lost during the five-week stoppage. The dramatic and inept attempt by Donald Trump to force Congress to release funds to build his border wall was a monumental failure and disrupted the economy. The move evoked outrage from thousands of minority and women owned business enterprises (MWBE's)  that rely heavily on government contracts, at the local, city, state and national levels to sustain a business.

John Harmon, president and CEO of the African American Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey (AACCNJ) said despite the uncertainty and chaos emanating from Washing, small business owners should continue to actively pursue government contracts. “MWBE's must continue to effectively compete for government contracts, both at the local, state and national levels,” he said. “It can be a tedious process, but worth it if you are able to navigate the process.” Harmon adds that despite setbacks like the partial government shutdown last year and lingering concerns of a repeat, advocacy groups like the AACCNJ offers support to minority-owned businesses during equivocal periods.    

“We have several programs that provide resources for MWBEs to effectively compete for government contracts,” he said. 

To that end, Malik Majeed, president, CEO and general counsel of PRWT Services, Inc, an administrative services firm and the largest minority-owned company in Philadelphia, Pa.,  said flexibility and discretion in how contracts are awarded to diverse businesses should be considered. “I am advocating for more meaningful discretion when reviewing proposals rather than disqualifying capable firms over mini mistakes or allowing a grace period to correct inadvertent mistakes,” he said. 
     
Majeed said instances of minor administrative oversights have caused his company to lose contracts at the city and state level. “If this can happen to us—the largest minority owned business in Philadelphia—it can certainly happen to smaller firms that don't have the administrative staff dedicated to breaking through the red tape,” he said.

Lastly, Carlos Medina, president and CEO of the statewide Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey, said even though Hispanic businesses are an integral part of the nation's economy,  a largely negative focus on immigration issues is 
impacting the number of Hispanic-owned businesses obtaining government contracts.
“The current push by the current administration to disparage at every turn is impacting how and if a Hispanic business is awarded a government contract,” he said.

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