NASHVILLE, TN (AP) Gov. Phil Bredesen signed an executive order creating the Office of Diversity Business Enterprise in hopes of making it easier for minority-owned and small businesses to compete for state contracts.
Right now, fewer than 2 percent of all state contracts are held by minority businesses, said General Services Commissioner Gwen Davis, who will oversee the office.
Only 8 percent of the state’s billions of dollars in contracts are held by companies owned by women, said Davis.
She said she doesn’t have a specific target for the number of minority contractors she would like to attract, but Bredesen said he would like it to reflect the state’s diverse population. Racial and ethnic minorities make up nearly 21 percent of the state’s population, according to census figures.
“There are a lot of small businesses that could be very competitive in this, but doing business with the state is just so difficult and so time-consuming and so fraught with red tape, they find it difficult,” the governor said after signing the order.
He said Davis will help potential contractors through the bureaucracy and “make sure that people who are qualified and have the ability and willingness and readiness to do business with the state are in there and able to do it.”
The office will be operated within the state Department of General Services with existing resources at no additional cost to taxpayers, said Bredesen, who hopes the state will save money because more companies are bidding for work.
Bredesen said there has been a lot of talk about attracting diverse contractors for government work but he wants this initiative “to be more than talk.”
He said obstacles like unnecessary bonding requirements will be eliminated and bidding opportunities will be posted publicly.
Bredesen said he has faith in Davis because she worked with him when he was Nashville’s mayor to get minority participation in the construction of the stadium for the Tennessee Titans NFL team.
Rep. Joe Townes, D-Memphis,said he hopes Bredesen’s initiative works.
“If you look at the state track record in this area, state government would be the most racist employer in the state,” he said. “That’s unacceptable.”