Low M/WBE participation project sparks county debate

Low M/WBE participation project sparks county debate
September 07
05:00 2017

A winning bid that had only 0.4 percent Minority/Woman Business Enterprise (M/WBE) participation sparked a debate among county commissioners on if their efforts for minority inclusion are enough.

The bid was approved during the commissioners’ Thursday, Aug. 31, meeting for MWM Construction Inc. to do renovations on the kitchen at the county detention center for a $1,133,000 base bid. The bid only involved 0.4 percent M/WBE subcontractor participation, well below the county’s 10 percent requirement. The county’s M/WBE committee, which is composed of high-ranking county staff, found the company’s good-faith efforts to be adequate.

County Commissioner Everette Witherspoon once again asked if those standards were too low.

“It just seems like there’s a lot of times when these companies don’t meet the 10 percent M/WBE and then they go back to the committee and it’s approved,” said Witherspoon.

Good-faith efforts are scored on bidders meeting various guidelines that equal at least 50 points. In this case, MWM received points for breaking down the work into economically feasible units for minority participation, contacting M/WBE businesses, making the construction plan and specifications available for review, attending a county pre-bid meeting and negotiating with minority businesses and not rejecting them without a sound, documented reason.  County staff said that 97 M/WBE companies were contacted by MWM and received follow ups, but only three responded.

Witherspoon said that the requirements should be above 50 points, to encourage bidders to offer assistance to M/WBE businesses with things like bonding, insurance, loans and equipment.

County Attorney Davida Martin, who is also on the county M/WBE committee, explained the M/WBE standards are set by state statute. Raising them would require a local act to be passed by the General Assembly.

This is what the City of Winston-Salem did. The city requires bidders to meet 115 points to qualify for a good-faith effort, which is reviewed by a staff committee as well as an appointed citizens committee. M/WBE participation goals vary between projects, depending on the availability of M/WBE businesses for that type of work, with a minimum goal of 10 percent. The city has an M/WBE program with two staff members that set those goals, do sub-contractor outreach for city projects, monitor subcontractor use during projects, help city departments identify M/WBE businesses for procurement needs and work with contractors to help them find M/WBE subcontractors and meet the city’s standards. City Business Inclusion Manager Tiesha Hinton said that the M/WBE program benefits the community.

“It creates jobs, job opportunities and economic growth, especially in underserved populations,” she said.

Though M/WBE participation varies greatly by year, depending on when construction projects are completed, the city participation rates tend to be higher with 20 percent M/WBE participation on city projects last fiscal year compared to the county’s 9.27 percent.

At last week’s meeting, County Manager Dudley Watts said they’ll consider contracting with the city for M/WBE services in next year’s budget. Commissioner Fleming El-Amin voted for the renovation bid contingent on using construction management at risk in future projects. This method means the contractor will be responsible for cost overrun for the project and recruits M/WBE businesses after winning the bid in order to ensure it receives maximum payment. The newly completed Central Library used this method and is estimated to have had more than 30 percent M/WBE participation.

Last week’s vote for the bid was counted as unanimous during the meeting but Witherspoon, who was under the weather, said afterward he intended to vote against it.

Also during the meeting:

*Commissioners approved a lease for Forsyth Tech’s future Aviation Career Development Center at Smith Reynolds Airport for 23 cents per square foot or just under $30,000 a year. The center will be built with money from the 2016 Forsyth Tech bond.

*Commissioners also approved $47.6 million for construction and completion of a Lowrance-Paisley replacement school. This is part of the 2016 school bond projects and has 21 percent MBWE participation during construction.

*An ordinance allowing restaurants in unincorporated areas of the county to sell alcohol on Sundays starting at 10 a.m. was also approved. It’s similar to one that just went into effect in Winston-Salem and is estimated impact about a dozen restaurants in the unincorporated areas.

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Todd Luck

Todd Luck

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