The Public Works Team at the 2019 City & State Above & Beyond Gala where CEO Celeste Frye was one the New York Women of Real Estate honorees


Building on decades of work to create a level playing field for public procurement opportunities, New York is expanding its minority- and women-owned business enterprises (MWBEs) program. The program was launched in 1988 with the creation of the Office of Minority and Women Owned Business Development, which compelled agencies to establish employment and business participation goals for minorities and women. In the last year, state lawmakers renewed the MWBE program through 2024 and expanded eligibility thresholds, passing a flurry of legislation meant to give businesses owned by women and people of color a greater share of government contracts.

Two new bills passed in late 2019 aim to increase the MWBE program’s transparency as well as accessibility. In an attempt to streamline the procurement process in favor of MWBEs, one bill allows city agencies to award MWBEs contracts of up to $500,000 without a formal competitive process. A second bill raises caps on the personal net worth of business owners, allowing more businesses to join the program and to be eligible for higher revenue jobs. The new legislation also aims to improve transparency by requiring public agencies and contractors to demonstrate that a good faith effort was made to hire an MWBE before applying for a waiver.

This could be great news for small businesses across New York State. Registered MWBEs will have faster access to high paying contracts and improved transparency when applying for contracts. In the long-term, legislators hope that the businesses hired by state and city agencies will be much more representative of the population as a whole – in New York City, the population is over half female and nearly 60% minority.

Lawmakers are hopeful the new changes will allow businesses to grow and improve their capacity and skills, ultimately positioning them to compete with the larger contractors who have long-held monopolies on government contracts. Both New York City and the state are trying to reach goals of awarding 30% of government contracts to MWBEs, and the new laws are a positive step in that direction.

As a registered woman-owned business enterprise, Public Works Partners applauds the new legislation. Registering as a WBE opened the door to new opportunities for us, both in terms of the sheer number of jobs we were considered for and the size of those jobs. Fostering a more transparent and less restricted process will only increase opportunity for well qualified businesses who have historically been overlooked in the hiring process.

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