An annual report presented at a Winston-Salem City Council meeting on Monday shows minority and women-owned business enterprises, or M/WBEs, received just 5.3% of the dollars spent by the city last year. That’s the lowest percentage in seven years.
A 2019 Disparity Study found that M/WBEs are significantly underutilized in Winston-Salem. For context, they make up about 35% of available vendors.
That same report made nine different recommendations on how to improve. At the meeting, Business Inclusion Manager Jakira Westbrook said the city has implemented one of them so far, and is on track to complete three more by the end of the fiscal year. She said they include creating so-called M/WBE departmental liaisons.
“So this will be staff that has purchasing authority, or staff that seeks out bidders for discretionary spending, they will be in close contact with us to identify M/WBE firms and also maintain outreach and bid records," said Westbrook. "And then lastly, we will mandate M/WBE outreach for informal purchases. So that's purchases of $1,000, up to $19,999.”
Westbrook also said the city will purchase software that will allow staffers access to more granular participation data, including information on who is or is not bidding on certain contracts and why.
This problem isn’t unique to Winston-Salem. Studies conducted in Greensboro and Charlotte also showed significant disparities in the proportion of city funds received by M/WBEs.