We are What We Repeatedly Do

by Luis Cartagena , Inclusion Officer
In 2013, Cuyahoga County commissioned a Disparity Study and Procedure Report which examined county buying practices, policies and bonding requirements. In 2014, results of the study found that between 2009 and 2012, minorities received $9.3 million of Cuyahoga County combined subcontracting and prime contracting awards, a value equal to 1.4 percent of all awards made by the county. Results of the study also indicated firms owned by women experienced 42 percent lower revenues than firms owned by men. 

Fast forward to 2016, Cuyahoga County Council and the County Executive took action to tackle the challenges addressed in the Disparity Study, and make the contracting process more fair and equitable. Legislation submitted by County Executive Budish was passed by Cuyahoga County Council in April of last year. Administrative actions were also adopted which created an Inclusion Officer role to monitor, track, and enforce these initiatives. 

Legislation and administrative actions included:
  • Addition of a Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) and Woman Business Enterprise (WBE) certification to the County’s current Small Business Enterprise (SBE) program
  • Set Aside projects for Small Business Enterprises
  • Performance Bond Waiver in the amount of $250,000 or less for contractors or vendors who pre-qualify
  • Addition of “Cuyahoga County Business Economic Inclusion Program” which gives the opportunity to match the lowest bid within two percent by businesses demonstrating utilization of MBE/WBEs in at least three projects and/or who employed a diverse workforce based on payroll records within the past two years
  • Speedy Pay/Swift Payment Protocol requires the Prime Contractor with the County to pay its subcontractors within 10 days of receiving payment for that subcontractors work from the County
  • Utilization of pre-bid conferences open to the public for request for bids, request for proposals, and request for qualifications issued by the County
  • Establishment of Cuyahoga County Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Committee

Tasked with the responsibility to ensure the success of these new initiatives, my approach is one of collaboration, understanding, and communication. First and foremost, the local business community needs to be made aware Cuyahoga County is working diligently to be a better business partner. We are here to help. The business case to ensure minority and woman businesses are part of our procurement process has been made. There is no arguing the positive effects of inclusion. Our mission states “Together We Thrive”, with an emphasis on “together”. 

In communicating our efforts, I started with internal staff. After all, we are the ones awarding the contracts. It is critical to the success of the inclusion initiatives to understand the changes in our procurement approach, as well as receive feedback from departmental Buyers. This feedback is then utilized to strengthen our communication with small businesses. For example, a company can become county certified as a SBE/MBE/WBE business, but the company must also register as a vendor in our BuySpeed portal. This portal is the best way to stay aware of procurement opportunities valued under $25,000. The BuySpeed portal is what departmental Buyers use to understand the product and services registered vendors offer. Therefore, companies should ensure to keep their BuySpeed profiles up-to-date with contact information and service offerings. This two-way communication from both businesses and departmental Buyers helps improve the process for everyone. 

Workers2We are continually focused on understanding the challenges faced by minority and woman owned companies who want to do business with the county. I meet with certified firms to better understand their service or product, introduce them to key County personnel, communicate our inclusion efforts, and explain how to stay informed about upcoming procurement or contracting opportunities. 

Collaboration is a practice of Cuyahoga County. A big part of my work is partnering with organizations who serve minority-owned and woman owned businesses. Through these organizations we have provided workshops on topics such as How to Do Business with the County, and Bid and Insurance Requirements. We also extended our outreach efforts to make others aware of our new certifications, upcoming contracting opportunities, and requirements such as when to register with the Inspector General. 

There is plenty of work left to be done to ensure the success of our inclusion initiatives. Having more companies certified with the County is a step in the right direction, but it is just a step. I am reminded of a quote I stumbled upon which read “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” Inclusion must be supported and repeated at every opportunity. Only then will it become a habit. 

For more information or to contact Luis Cartagena, Inclusion Officer, call 216-443-7310 or email lcartagena@cuyahogacounty.us

To apply for SBE/MBE/WBE certification or information on upcoming contracts and public notices, please call the Office of Procurement & Diversity at 216-443-7200.