Within the next few months, Fort Worth and Tarrant County voters may have the opportunity to vote on as many as three major bond proposals: the Fort Worth Independent School District, the City of Fort Worth and the Tarrant County Hospital District (John Peter Smith Health Network).
With the amount of dollars for these bond projects possibly approaching $2 billion, it is important that city, school district and county leaders continue to think about how to share the wealth. With African American and Hispanic communities constituting 54 percent of Fort Worth’s population, our city populace is a minority/majority constituency.
This does not include other populations involving other ethnic groups. If this population were included, the minority/majority populace of people of color in Fort Worth is more than 60 percent.
Both the city of Fort Worth and Tarrant County have an ethical obligation to assure that the Minority/Women Business Enterprises (MWBE) community has an equitable share of those funds which will be approved by the taxpayers.
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In addition to quality of facilities and excellence in education (which passage of school bond proposals would ensure), our health delivery system in the county and the improvements in the city bond proposals, there must also be an assurance of contractual equity for our (Fort Worth/Tarrant County) minority professional services and general contractors. These bond projects should provide an excellent opportunity for these institutions to help build contractor capacity for minority- and women-owned firms. We strongly support a “Fort Worth First” perspective when awarding contracts to grow and strengthen MWBE firms.
Municipalities, counties and taxing authorities that award contracts using public money ought to be creative and proactive in providing such opportunities for Historically Underutilized Businesses (HUBs).
While 25 percent goals are often talked about when awarding contracts to MWBE companies, we at the Fort Worth Metropolitan Black Chamber of Commerce would like to admonish leaders that the goal should not be considered a ceiling; it should be the floor. And, there ought to be diversity within that diversity (i.e. black, Hispanic and women businesses sharing equally). Anything less would be short-changing our taxpayers and our minority businesses.
It is important that prime contractors on these major projects include not only minority subcontractors, but minority “partners.” We have a perfect example of that happening right now with the multi-million-dollar project at I. M. Terrell School, future home of the Academy for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) and the Performing and Visual Arts. Dallas-based Turner Construction joined with the Tarrant County African-American company Con-Real to partner as construction manager of the project.
Since Fort Worth has started a discussion on race and culture, and on the inequities within our city, we must not only speak of social justice, but we must also talk about economic equity. For years economic inequity has been a major concern for those of us who witness it every day. However, when it comes to addressing this pressing problem, it seems our leadership only wants to give it lip service.
It is time for that to end.
Historically the minority communities have been among the staunchest supporters of bond packages, as we want to see our city, county and schools improve and prosper. But we don’t want to just vote on things getting built, we want to participate in the actual building of these projects.
Before we go to the polls to vote on $2 billion in bond funds, we must vote with conviction of economic equity being part of the solution for what ails us. On sure cure for social injustice is economic equity. This is clearly a way to reinvest dollars in economically underserved communities because local minority firms have always demonstrated the desire to hire workers from communities they represent.
Leaders need to demonstrate that they believe in economic equity, and are willing to ensure that MWBE firms will have ample opportunities to participate as contractors on these worthwhile projects.
Devoyd Jennings is President and CEO of the Fort Worth Metropolitan Black Chamber of Commerce.