A bill introduced in the North Carolina General Assembly 1 1/2 years ago could have given Fayetteville City Council more autonomy in awarding construction bids to local and minority businesses. The measure, sponsored by Democrat Sen. Ben Clark, amended the Fayetteville City Charter, establishing a Small Business Enterprise program “to promote the development of small businesses in the Fayetteville Metropolitan Statistical Area and to enhance opportunities for small businesses to participate in city. contracts.” But the SBE program does not include the monetary incentives given to the cities of Durham and Charlotte in earlier legislation.
The local statute allows Fayetteville City Council to give more preference to local bidders, especially businesses owned by minorities, women and veterans. They comprise what the government calls disadvantaged business enterprises or historically underutilized businesses. In a report released early last year, the city said that of $65.7 million worth of city contracts in an eight-month period, only 35 percent went to local companies.
The Fayetteville area “just doesn’t have the capacity to lure small, local businesses to bid on major projects,” said city of Fayetteville Purchasing Manager Kimberly Toon. As a result, almost half of the money went to out-of-state companies, the analysis showed. Fayetteville’s small business enterprise program can solicit bids from local companies only for small contracts that do not exceed $30,000, Toon said. In 2011, the legislature allowed the city of Durham to limit bidding to local small businesses for construction contracts up to $500,000.
Fayetteville officials have sought additional local hiring authorization for years, but the city is hamstrung by state laws that require it to approve the lowest qualified bids, regardless of where the companies are from. To counter that, Toon said Fayetteville casts its net farther than it used to. “We make sure everyone in the (metropolitan statistical area) receives a copy of the proposal before it goes out for bid.”
Durham has been unable to reach its goal of 25 percent of contract work staying local. The city reached 21 percent last year, officials said. Fayetteville has only the power of persuasion on its side and an enthusiastic purchasing office. Officials ask that bidders make a good faith effort to hire minorities and veterans. Toon noted that representatives of all local governments meet monthly to identify strengths and weaknesses of the local work force and economy. “It’s a group effort,” she said.
Fayetteville City Councilman Larry Wright is dissatisfied with state regulations that hamper efforts to incentivize local businesses to seek business from city government. Toon said many minority small-business owners routinely deal with a lack of bonding capability or the presence of mandatory insurance minimums. She said her staff conducts classes for interested businessmen and women to put them in a better position to bid.