In 2005, the Peoria County Board created a Minority Business Contractor Program to address the glaring disparity between dollars spent contracting with, and procuring from, minority- and women-owned businesses and dollars spent with other local businesses. From 2000 to 2005, Peoria County spent $146,903 with minority- and women-owned businesses while spending nearly $140 million for supplies, contractual services, and capital improvements overall. This inequity shames us, and we are determined to remedy our unacceptable track record as expeditiously as possible.
Toward that end, we have established a Minority Business Ad-Hoc Committee focusing on three objectives: 1) to improve communication with minority, women and disadvantaged business owners (MBEs, for purposes of this article); 2) to improve the county’s procurement process by allowing for more opportunities to contract with MBEs; and 3) to increase the number of MBEs in the community and the region. Representatives from the Peoria Black Chamber of Commerce, IBEW Local 34, AA Contractors Association of Central Illinois, Bradley University, and the faith-based community are partnering with the County on the ad-hoc committee to identify local MBEs and raise awareness of the county’s desire to distribute spending dollars more equitably. Identifying local MBEs and improving communication is essential to building business relationships: we cannot contract with businesses of whose existence we are unaware, and businesses cannot accommodate our contractual and procurement needs if those needs are not known.
Over the summer months, the committee held an informational forum for all MBEs; county staff presented the procurement process at a Peoria Black Chamber of Commerce meeting; and the Auditor’s Office participated in last month’s Heart of Illinois Trade Fair. At each event, county officials explained how businesses are added to our vendor list, outlined our purchasing process, and distributed lists of typical contracting projects and commodities we procure. While this information is pertinent to any business owner wishing to provide goods and services to the county, our primary goal during this initial stage of our Minority Business Contractor Program is to build trust.
Peoria County has a long way to go before achieving that trust through equitable spending and by becoming a model for procurement. At the moment we do not know by what year our percentage of annual dollars spent with MBEs will be equal to the percentage of minority businesses capable of meeting our contractual and procurement needs. We do know, however, that we must expand our database of local minority- and women-owned businesses, continue raising awareness of our needs among the MBEs we have identified, review and improve internal spending processes, and work with other local units of government and economic development drivers to increase the number of minority, women, and disadvantaged business owners in our community and the region. We are on the right track. IBI