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Business-boost controversy

State program to increase spending on minority- and women-owned establishments leaves owners feeling slighted
Tuesday, January 13, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 2:33 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Four years ago, Anita Griggs certified her business as a women-owned business with the state’s Office of Administration in hopes of the state spending money on her services. But since that time, Anita’s Homestyle Catering has yet to see any benefit, she said.

“Other than our name being on a list, I really haven’t benefited from it,” Griggs said.

In November, Gov. Bob Holden announced that the state spent 150 percent more on services from minority-owned businesses than it did in 2000. And according to the state Office of Administration, the amount spent toward women-owned businesses rose by more than 62 percent. But many of Columbia’s minority-and women-owned businesses that are certified with the state have yet to see much, if any, benefit from the increased government spending.

According to the Office of Administration, 10 of the 43 certified minority- or women-owned businesses in Columbia are receiving state spending. In 1998, former Gov. Mel Carnahan issued an executive order requiring 10 percent of state spending to involve minority-owned businesses, and 5 percent to involve women-owned businesses. Although that mandate has yet to be reached, the amount of state spending towards minority-owned businesses has risen to more than 6 percent while spending toward women-owned businesses is now at a little more than 3 percent.

Griggs said the state has overlooked her catering business because of the limited amount of money that can be spent on it.

“Spending only a few hundred dollars on a catering job doesn’t give them a feather in their cap,” Griggs said.

But Marvin Eason, director of the state’s Office of Equal Opportunity, said certified businesses that don’t receive state spending haven’t been excluded because of the amount of state money that can be spent on the business, but because of the opportunity for the government to spend with those businesses isn’t always there.

“It is driven more or less by the service you’re providing,” Eason said. “Clearly there’s an opportunity there for them depending on the nature of the business they’re in.”

State law requires that businesses certified by the state receive requests for proposals when a need for their service arises. Griggs said she has received occasional requests, but never has been selected to cater for the state.

Under the state’s system, after any bids are returned by those businesses, an evaluation is done to determine which business has the product the state wants at the best price, Eason said.

Although she feels her business shouldn’t be used by the state every time a need for her service arises, Griggs said her business should always receive serious consideration.

“I think that we should have first choice over anybody that’s not certified,” Griggs said. “I thought that was the goal and the reason for getting certified.”

Culture Guides is one of the 10 certified women-owned businesses in Columbia receiving some sort of state spending. But owner Jacqueline Ambrow said she saw a 65 percent decrease in sales from state agencies at her business last summer.

“You go through all these hoops getting certified, but we don’t get more business because of it,” Ambrow said.

In December, Missouri became the first state to streamline the certification process for women-owned businesses, but Griggs and Ambrow both contend that once on the list, the majority of businesses won’t see much benefit outside of the ability to advertise that they are women-owned.

[photo]

A rack of rolls wait for the oven at Anita's Homestyle Catering, on Thursday, December 18, 2003. (JENNIFER J. KETTLER/Missourian)

“We have a few people say they’re glad … , but we see no increase in business because of it,” Ambrow said.

Ambrow said the state’s plan would work better if more spending were allocated to women-owned businesses, claiming the 5 percent goal is not enough.

“No, not by any stretch,” Ambrow said. “It should be 10 percent for both. Five percent … — no wonder we’re not seeing much.”

Eason said he’s not sure why there were different percentage goals put in place in 1998 for minority and women-owned businesses, but said it would be hard to provide ideal spending to every certified business.

“Any number you put in might not be necessarily what the business community may want,” he said.

And although Eason admits the state has a long way to go in reaching those 5 and 10 percent goals, he said the state is actively trying to increase participation with those businesses by providing opportunity fairs and one-on-one counseling sessions, among other things.

“I think the program is still working,” he said. “We’re trying to do everything we possibly can to make sure businesses can participate.”


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