Mayor Brandon Scott and Baltimore Department of Public Works Director Jason Mitchell launched the DPW Unbundling Initiative to help prepare minority- and women-owned small businesses to compete as prime contractors. (Photo Credit: Photo Courtesy of the Department of Public Works)

By Megan Sayles,
AFRO Business Writer,

Mayor Brandon Scott and Department of Public Works (DPW) Director Jason Mitchell recently announced a new initiative to help minority- and women-owned small businesses compete as prime contractors with the city of Baltimore. 

The two-phase DPW Unbundling Initiative will provide mentoring to local diverse businesses, which tend to serve as subcontractors to prime contractors, and expand their capacity to compete for DPW’s water and wastewater utility contracts. 

“This is about us breaking down these large contracts [for] these businesses that are operated here in the city, that employ people who live in our neighborhoods and that create pathways for folks who quite frankly so many are afraid to hire and don’t want to touch,” said Scott.

“What we are doing here today is helping them to expand that opportunity to work with us, their city government in the city that they truly believe in, because this is where they invest their time, their money, their energy and have their businesses.” 

During phase one, the DPW Unbundling Initiative will allow women and minority subcontractors to learn from current prime contractors. They will receive on-the-job training, administrative support, safety monitoring, and access to bonding and working capital. 

During phase two, DPW along with other city agencies plan to produce appropriately-sized contracts so the newly trained contractors can seize prime procurement opportunities with the city. 

Sheila Dixon, executive director for the Maryland Minority Contractors Association, said most prime contractors start as subcontractors, but subcontractors oftentimes face significant obstacles to becoming general contractors. 

Without sufficient accounting systems, capital, employees and knowledge about managing subcontractors, it can be difficult to expand capacity and compete as a prime contractor. 

“I think the effort is good. There’s a lot of support that subcontractors will need in this process so that they don’t fail and so the burden is not on the prime contractor who will be mentoring these subcontractors,” said Dixon.  

“The city realizes that, during this process, the monitoring, inspection and capital pieces all have to go hand-in-hand to be successful because it’s easy to say you want to take the contracts and make them smaller, but those companies have to have real support in order to be successful.” 

Phase 1 of the DPW Unbundling Initiative will begin this summer, while Phase 2 will commence at the end of the year or early next year. 

Through this initiative, the city plans to support a minimum of 10 minority- and women-owned small businesses in Baltimore, of which at least five will be prepared to serve as general contractors. 

DPW is also set to host outreach events this spring to attract small businesses to participate in the initiative, including a networking event called Face Time with the Primes. 

“This Unbundling Initiative will redistribute, in an equitable way, contracts in DPW. Part of DPW’s mission is equity in all we do, and this is going toward that goal and plan of doing equity,” said Mitchell at a press conference. 

“It will improve access for small, women and minority contractors to be able to do some of the great work here in the city that people have grown up in and loved.” 

Megan Sayles is a Report for America Corps member. 

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