Baton Rouge: Study reveals women and minority business owners experience shocking inequalities
BATON ROUGE - According to The National Association of Women Business Owners, a 2017 analysis revealed that 11.6 million U.S. companies were owned by women. These businesses employed nearly 9 million individuals and generated over a trillion in sales.
While this statistic indicates a coup for female entrepreneurs, a regional study reveals that though women and minorities who own Baton Rouge-based businesses abound, most aren't receiving the same community support as their more socially privileged counterparts.
Analysts with Keen Independent Research, an Arizona and Colorado-based economic research and policy analysis firm, were hired to spend a year analyzing the success of Baton Rouge-based businesses owned by women and people of color.
The Advocate reports that on Wednesday night, Keen’s researchers presented their findings to the Metro Council and the picture they painted left much to be desired.
Keen’s findings revealed that though 40% of the companies in the capital city are owned by women and minorities, these businesses are being underutilized for the city-parish’s purchases and contracts.
According to the study, a shockingly small 4% of the approximately $2.4 billion in city-parish contract dollars between Jan. 2013 through Sept. 2017 went to minority- and/or women-owned firms. Besides this, only 1% went to veteran-owned businesses.
The report also revealed that many minority- and women-owned firms in the metro area are socially and economically disadvantaged when competing for work in the public sector. These companies run into problems when they attempt to secure financing and bonding, which would make them more viable candidates for large-scale projects. Even the city-parish's outreach efforts to establish equality didn't seem to help.
After listening to Keen’s analysis, city-parish leaders indicated they weren't surprised by the findings. They've been aware of the disparity issue for years, but on Wednesday night leaders said they're ready to tackle the issue head-on.
Councilman LaMont Cole implied this by saying, "It's very clear we have an opportunity in the city to create economic inclusion for everyone. I think it's important we be aggressive."
Cole’s reaction was supported by several other council members who seemed eager to see improvements in the capital city’s support of women and minority-owned businesses.
Keen’s analysts were optimistic regarding the future but indicated that not only would positive changes take years to see fruition but that creating a level playing field for all EBR businesses would require a complex restructuring of the way City Hall does business.
The analysis firm offered suggestions as to how the city-parish can improve. For one, it suggested the local government consider reserving certain smaller contracts exclusively for disadvantaged businesses to bid on. They also suggested the city-parish create a program to help certify disadvantaged businesses and provide them with the financial resources that are often required to secure public contracts.
In any case, the City-Parish seems to have taken the first step towards improvement by hiring Keen to perform the research study.
With Mayor-President Broome’s backing, the Council allocated $300,000 to secure Keen's services in leading the yearlong disparity study.
Results of the research firm's analysis will be shared with the public in two town hall meetings, the first will be Thursday, from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Independence Theater and Cultural Center, 7800 Independence Blvd.
The second town hall will also be held on Thursday, from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. at BREC, 6201 Florida Blvd.
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