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Legislation to boost minority- and women-owned businesses in Schenectady goes back to drawing board

Legislation to boost minority- and women-owned businesses in Schenectady goes back to drawing board

Legislation to boost minority- and women-owned businesses in Schenectady goes back to drawing board
Ron Gardner, Schenectady affirmative action officer, in 2018
Photographer: File photo

The City Council has temporarily spiked a policy that would further open the door to minority- and women-owned businesses competing for city contracts.

A resolution to raise the cap on projects in which contractors without certification from the state’s apprenticeship program can bid was shelved ahead of the scheduled March 9 vote.

“We’ve received concerns from local unions,” said City Council President John Mootooveren. “They want to know how they can help make this program successful.”

The Greater Capital Region Building and Construction Trades Council was scheduled to make a pitch to lawmakers last week, but committee meetings were scrapped over coronavirus concerns.

Discussion is scheduled to resume Monday using video conferencing technology.

Contractors without certification from the state’s apprenticeship program can bid on projects up to $200,000.

Under legislation proposed by city Affirmative Action Officer Ron Gardner, the cap would increase to $350,000, and $500,000 in 2021.

Obtaining certification can be daunting for smaller businesses with limited resources, Gardner said.

As a result, they can be boxed out of landing lucrative contracts. Ultimately, Gardner envisions more contracts will lead to stronger businesses providing higher wages to local employees, perhaps even spurring home ownership in the long run.

Mike Lyons, president of the Greater Capital Region Building and Construction Trades Council, said apprenticeship programs protect municipalities by ensuring a certain threshold of quality control can be met.

While Lyons praised Gardner’s efforts to boost opportunities for MWBEs, and wants to strengthen relationships with those businesses, lowering the cap may lead to unqualified bidders landing contracts.

“In our experience, it will bring a lot of unscrupulous bidders into the arena, and if they get a lot of work, it could put the city at a liability, and we don’t want to see that happen,” Lyons said.

Sixty-eight percent of the city’s bid awards were above $500,000 in 2019, with 48 percent coming in over $1 million. Twenty-four percent were between $100,000 and $350,000, with 8 percent coming in between $350,000 and $500,000.

Gardner downplayed concerns that the legislation, which he called the most sweeping since current policy was set in the late-1980s, was in jeopardy.

“I’m very pleased with the progress, and think we’ll have a quality product when this is done,” Gardner said earlier this month. “The overall package is going to be a much better deal.”

Gardner said the pending legislation will include safeguards to ensure MWBEs will be required to submit “utilization plans” with their bids outlining how they will fulfill and meet the contracts once awarded.

Prospective bidders will be subjected to the city’s existing vetting process, which includes a review of their resources and capacity to complete projects.

If approved, Gardner’s office will also provide extensive training and workshops for those seeking to take advantage of the new opportunities.

Local contractor Rockie Mann was among several speakers who urged City Council to support the legislation earlier this month.

Mann, owner of JAFJR Construction Services, got his start performing small home improvement projects like bathroom teardowns that seldom surpassed $10,000.

He got his big break after learning how to bid on state contracts and was awarded a six-month, $450,000 GlobalFoundries contract.

The fuse was lit and his team of seven workers, all from Schenectady, eventually grew to 60.

“Some bought homes and cars,” Mann said. “They were making $20 per hour and it was great.”

While unions initially chafed, he said tensions eased within months after his firm proved itself.

“We killed them with kindness and kept doing our job,” Mann said. “And we didn’t have any more problems.”

Additional contracts followed, including a $1.2 million job at SUNY Poly’s Albany NanoTech Complex.

“It’s been so rewarding,” Mann said. “There’s a lot more, if given the opportunity, who can do what I did. They’ve been locked out for so long, it’s hard to get in.”

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