SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. — Prior to the upcoming renewal of the New York State Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprises program, two state Assemblywomen held a roundtable discussion to hear local business owners’ thoughts on the program, including how it can be improved for the future.
After hearing from her constituents about challenges with the program, local Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner, D-Round Lake, invited Brooklyn-based Assemblywoman Rodneyse Bichotte, D-Flatbush, who is the Chair of the Oversight of Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprises Subcommittee, to the 113th Assembly District on Wednesday to meet with area entrepreneurs.
A group of about a dozen attendees came to Woerner’s Saratoga Springs office building on Wednesday evening to be a part of the discussion. The event-goers were representatives from current, former and aspiring MWBE-certified businesses, as well as companies that hire them.
The goal of this roundtable was to bring together these different parties for an open dialogue about the role of the program, for which the enabling legislation is set to be renewed in 2019.
“This is the year that we can change things,” Bichotte said to those in the room
Much of Wednesday’s conversation was focused on the application process and how it could be simplified and clarified.
“They don’t give us the rules of the chess game,” said Dorothy Rogers-Bullis of drb Business Interiors, a commercial furniture company in Saratoga Springs.
More than one attendee was upset about being denied certification for reasons that seemed silly.
Another claimed that she wasn’t even notified of the denial by the state office that determined it.
Even those who have successfully achieved certification voiced their complaints that the process takes too long, sometimes years, to attain MWBE status.
Though the comments on logistics were overwhelmingly negative, the message was clear that the business owners do support the existence of the MWBE program, because it can help companies like theirs, if they are certified.
Local business Flowers By Pesha in downtown Troy recently received its MWBE certification and is now the only WBE florist in upstate New York. “The NYS MWBE process was intense and time-consuming,” owner Pesha King said, sharing that it took more than eight months from the time they submitted an online application until the application review process was completed.
However, King said all of this work was worth it. “We started the process in hopes of working with local and state governments as well as local business leaders looking to support businesses certified as a WBE,” she explained. “NYS WBE is designed to promote equality of economic opportunities, and to eliminate barriers to their participation in state contracts.”
So far the florist’s WBE status has helped increase business visibility. “Establishments that are certified as WBE are granted access to a large database utilized by major corporations and government entities that support supplier diversity,” King said, adding that it also opens doors for grant opportunities and low- interest loans through local lenders.
“This certification is a big deal for Flowers by Pesha, and well deserved,” King said. “We look forward to seeing what the future holds as far as business sales generated from being a certified WBE.”
Looking ahead, legislators like Woerner and Bichotte aim to improve the parts of the MWBE program with which the business owners are dissatisfied, so the state can be helpful in promoting minority and women-owned businesses.
Among Bichotte’s initiatives around the program are goals to extend it for five more years, and expedite the state certification process with a 30-day limit. This may include some outsourcing and partnering with local chambers and business development organizations, Bichotte noted.