The wheels of progress turn slowly and as Charleston County School District steadily progresses through a building project that ultimately will spend about $1 billion by 2021 and each year spends some $200 million to procure goods and services, the effort to progressively include black owned business participation in those financial dynamics also has been a slow process. But Charleston Sen. Marlon Kimpson says there has been progress.
Kimpson said since his 2013 election to the Senate Dist. 42 seat he has had a keen focus on black business inclusion in those arenas where state dollars are spent. So two years ago he focused some attention on Charleston County School District, where building programs since 2000 has infused hundreds of millions of dollars into the economy.
He learned that from January 2010 to May 2014 the district had spent $123 million. Only about six percent of the total was spent with black owned businesses. Of the total spent for procurement of goods and services, the district spent only about three percent of about $200 million with black owned businesses, he said. School district officials considered that “an outstanding job”, Kimpson said last week. He considers the district’s record of doing business with black owned companies dismal.
Enter Wayne Wilcher who in 2014 became the district’s director for contracts and procurement. CCSD’s board of trustees in 2008 set a minority business participation goal of 20 percent, but nobody had tracked the numbers. His scrutiny of the information revealed there indeed was a problem, Wilcher said last week.
In 2015 of the approximately $278 million spent by the district, only about one percent was spent with black owned businesses. He noted the district’s total minority business spending was about 12 percent of that total.
Kimpson explained however, total minority spending includes spending with small/women/and minority businesses. Kimpson cited the strategy of having white females front as business owners to win minority contracts. So he asked specifically for stats about black owned business participation as well.
Wilcher said the district has implemented some initiatives to improve its record of minority spending. The 2016 fiscal year which ended recently saw black business participation increase to about eight percent of the district’s total spending and the number of black vendors doing business with the district increase as well.
Wilcher says that’s due primarily to changes in the climate of doing business. Black businesses in the past may not have felt comfortable doing business with the district. He’s trying to change that. Tweaking the system that already exists to make it more accommodating to black and other minority business owners is having an effect, Wilcher said.
That process, in addition to a disparity study to determine how many minority businesses are available to serve the district’s needs can further increase the number of blacks doing business with the district, he said.
Wilcher thinks what’s happening at the school district also is happening in other agencies like Charleston County government and the Charleston County Aviation Authority.
Wilcher said his counterparts in those other agencies are seeing similar results. It’s no longer business as usual, he said. If a business is qualified, it will get a fair shot. He encourages black business owners to get to know the procurement officials at local government agencies.
Kimpson added that black elected officials must do their part by making economic issues a priority. “It requires an enormous amount of work and it doesn’t make headlines, but it’s important work,” he said.