Metro council discusses disparity study hoping to promote inclusivity

Baton Rouge metro council has work to do in terms of disparity among small businesses

BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Members of the East Baton Rouge Metro Council discussed a few hot topics Wednesday evening that could change the way city leaders look at contracts.

For the last year, a Denver-based research company has been looking into whether women, minorities, and veterans are being left out of business dealings in East Baton Rouge Parish. The study aims to find any racial or gender bias, and if issues are found, to create a plan to correct them.

When the Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome first issued the executive order in November of 2017, she said it was important to create a welcoming environment for women, veteran, and minority business owners. She added these groups should have fair access to public contracts in a market they helped create.

Broome also said the study would be a step toward building inclusivity in the community.

David Keen, principal with Keen Independent Research, says the basic question is whether there’s a level playing field for minority, women, and veteran-owned firms looking for work with the city-parish. The short answer is there’s work to do.

Keen says his firm found that almost all of the businesses in the city-parish are locally owned. Keen says more than 90% of the businesses in the Baton Rouge area qualified and interested in getting a contract are small businesses.

Keen says they did find a disparity between utilization of minority women owned firms, city-parish contracts, and the availability of contracts. Only 4% of contract dollars are going to firms owned by people of color and women. He says they look for that number to be closer to 21%, given the availability of firms in the market.

Here’s what the firm suggests the city should do next: “We recommended that the city-parish have a new, targeted business program for socially and economically disadvantaged businesses. Whether they be people of color, women, or others who may have been socially and economically disadvantaged and don’t have the same ability to compete for city-parish contracts as bigger business or businesses that are more advantaged.”

Two town hall meetings will be held Thursday, Nov. 14 to discuss these findings. The meetings will be open to small business owners interested in working with the city-parish. The first meeting will be held from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Independence Park Theatre and Cultural Center, located at 7800 Independence Blvd. The second meeting will be held from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at BREC, located at 6201 Florida Blvd.

City leaders say the goal is to expand contracts to a larger group of people in the parish.

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