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Presentation held on minority, women owned businesses

WATERTOWN — Local business owners, prospective owners, employees and others gathered at Jefferson Community College Tuesday afternoon to hear from Valerie D. White, executive vice president and executive director of the New York State Division of Minority and Women’s Business Development, on certifying businesses and other issues related to the Minority and Women-owned Business Enterprises program.

“It was very productive,” said Ben Primicias, who has owned School Daze on Arsenal Street for 29 years and has a certification through the MWBE program.

Mr. Primicias said that most of the sessions on the MWBE program are held downstate, near Albany or New York City.

“You have to really make a commitment,” he said. “This one is located conveniently.”

Ms. White talked about the history of the program, which oversees New York’s goal that 30 percent of contracts go to minority or women owned businesses, a relatively new program.

“This version of the MWBE division has been in place since 2011,” Ms. White told attendees, and the 30 percent goal was set in 2014.

In 2011, the state utilization rate for MWBE’s was a little under 10 percent, she said. In 2018, the rate increased to 28.62 percent. The division now receives 300 to 400 requests for certification per month.

Any commodity contract over $25,000 or construction contract over $100,000 has some goal for MWBE utilization.

Each of the 97 state agencies and authorities has its own coordinators, and sets different utilization rates for different projects.

Part of Ms. White’s goal is connecting contractors and businesses.

“There’s a supply of MWBE’s, there’s a demand, but we can’t get them matched.”

The office is also expanding the number of people who are reviewing applications — good news for several of the attendees, who were looking to certify or re-certify businesses. They also present everything from weekly webinars to regional expos to network, help MWBEs get certified, grow, and work through issues with the certification process.

Ms. White also fielded questions on specific issues from local businesses.

“I’m really here to hear from you,” she said. People shared experiences with trying to fulfill specifically minority business requirements, or getting waivers for making a good faith effort to meet contract requirements. Others said there are business around that might qualify but have not been certified.

“This may be one of the first places we need to do that networking,” Ms. White said. “Part of our goal would be to identify those MBEs and WBEs” and try to get them certified.

She also encouraged businesses who take on state contracts to talk to the agency MWBE coordinator before accepting the job, if they know it will be difficult to fulfill the contract obligations.

Denise Stark came all the way from Malone to get help on certifying her business, Core Climate Systems, as a WBE.

“It definitely was” useful, she said. “I am a woman-owned business, just not certified, so I need to get that done.”