Four years ago, Gov. Martin O’Malley and Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown set a goal – 7 percent of all state contracts were to be awarded to African American-owned businesses. A recent contract worth $450 million has come across the table and no piece of the project is set to go to Black-owned firms – creating a furor within the minority business community.

Arnold M. Jolivet, president and founder of the Maryland Minority Contractors Association, is prepared to take the fight to the federal level if the 7 percent goal isn’t met on this project.

“The contract was given to two contractors and the contractors were allowed to set the goal and determine what minority groups they were going to use,” Jolivet said. “The contractor, of course, is accustomed to using firms that they want to use and didn’t use any African-American firms.”

Motorola is set to take on the bulk of the contract with 13 percent of it to be used on minority sub-contractors. Those sub-contractors are Asian-American owned businesses.

Whether or not Jolivet can win this is questionable. There’s no hard rule that mandates the state has to grant 7 percent of all contracts Black-owned firms. However, the state has yet to meet the 7 percent goal since O’Malley and Brown introduced it. It was 4.3 percent in 2006, 3.6 percent in 2007, 4.1 percent in 2008 and 5 percent in 2009.

Those numbers fall short, but people in the governor’s office maintain that progress is being made in efforts to provide equal opportunities for minority-owned businesses in Maryland. The governor states that African American-owned firms saw a 39 percent increase in awards from 2008 to 2009 to total over $371 million. They say that sum and other moves the office has made show the governor’s office is serious.

“Creating connections that expand opportunity for minority and women-owned firms has been a core priority for the O’Malley-Brown Administration,” O’Malley said in a statement. “We recently launched a new initiative – Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) University, designed to connect small and minority businesses with State and private sector contracting opportunities.”

Brown, who has been in charge of preparing Maryland for the influx of jobs as a result of the Base Realignment and Closure plan, went even further into the efforts the state has been making into creating opportunities for minority owned businesses.

“During 2009, in collaboration with members of the Maryland Congressional Delegation, we held the first ever BRAC Minority Business Enterprise Conference to inform small and minority firms of procurement opportunities with the U.S. Department of Defense,” Brown said in a statement. “In addition, the Governor’s Office of Minority Affairs (GOMA) and the BRAC Small and Minority Business Advisory Board have been instrumental in expanding the pool of federal contracting opportunities for small and minority firms.”

There will be a state department of public works meeting on Nov. 3 to determine whether this contract will be approved. That meeting may be contentious as Jolivet says he and his colleagues will show up to Annapolis in full force.

“We’re bringing a bus load of people to Annapolis to appear before the board to convince them that they should do the right thing and comply with the African-American goal utilization requirement and have at least 7 percent of that contract go to African- American firms,” he said.

George Barnette

Special to the AFRO