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District 3 council member Rowdy Gaudet, left, and district 6 council member Cleve Dunn Jr. attend a meeting of the metro council, Wednesday, February 10, 2021, at City Hall in Baton Rouge, La.

A new department has been created within the city-parish focused solely on increasing the amount of government contracts that get awarded to minority-owned businesses. 

The East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council unanimously voted to allocate $228,000 to establishing the Division of Supplier Diversity, advocated for by Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome's administration. Two new positions will be created within the city-parish's purchasing department. 

The new department is partially funded initially by a $32,000 supplement from the city-parish's parks and recreation system, which has also been working to close disparities in contracts awarded to businesses owned by minorities, women and veterans. 

"This will help small, locally-owned disadvantaged businesses create jobs, expand opportunities and build wealth in their communities," Broome said in a prepared statement. "This is a significant stride in our push for equitable practices within our city-parish government, and a monumental win for our community." 

BREC Superintendent Corey Wilson echoed those sentiments, saying the parks system wants to more equitably spend its voter-approved tax revenues.

"We are excited to work with the city to accomplish these critical initiatives and doing so in an efficient and effective manner by working together and combining resources," Wilson said in his statement.

BREC and the city-parish each conducted independent disparity studies recently, the results of which confirmed what many activists have been saying for years: Too many government contracts were going to white-owned businesses while qualified minority-owned business were being ignored or squeezed out of consideration.

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The 2019 study from Keen Independent Research analyzed data from 2013-2017 and showed that locally-owned disadvantaged businesses were capable of receiving 21% of public spending, but only 5% of those firms were ever awarded contracts. 

With this new department, the mayor has set a goal of at least 25% of overall annual spending on city-parish contracts going to socially and economically disadvantaged firms.

City officials claim that, since the results from the disparity study were released, the amount of contracts awarded to minority-owned and disadvantaged firms increased by 10% through outreach, removing barriers to the bidding process and breaking up larger contracts into smaller opportunities.   

The new division will work to close the gaps by overseeing a certification program, compliance, outreach and training to minority-owned businesses. 

The new division will be staffed by a chief purchasing analyst and senior purchasing analyst, both full time positions starting in June and November, respectively.

Future funding of the department will get factored into the city-parish's annual budget. 

"I'll be closely monitoring this department to make sure they have the resources they need and be a watchful eye to ensure it's headed in the direction it needs to go," said Councilman Cleve Dunn Jr., who has been an outspoken advocate for minority-owned businesses since taking office in January. "When we have major contracts coming up, the first thing I want to know is what's the minority participation."  

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