Birmingham Releases Report on Spending with Minority, Women Businesses

City of Birmingham (and Mayor Randall Woodfin)
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Photo: City of Birmingham

For the first time, the City of Birmingham (and Mayor Randall Woodfin) reported its own record for using minority- and women-owned vendors today, fulfilling a promise from Mayor Randall L. Woodfin and creating a baseline that will be used to expand opportunities in the future.

The report was released as part of the city’s initiative known as VITAL, or Valuing Inclusion to Accelerate and Lift. City leaders launched VITAL in 2019, saying that collecting the city’s own diverse spending data and making it public was a matter of transparency, leading by example, and moving from talk to action on building a more inclusive economy.

“As a city, we have talked about inclusion for decades. We have said we value inclusion. We have asked others to disclose and defend their diverse spending,” Mayor Woodfin said. “But we have never turned the same spotlight on ourselves — until now.”

The initial report tracked spending between July 1, 2019, and June 30, 2020. It showed that, when purchasing goods and services, the city spent 10 percent with businesses that are primarily owned by minorities or women. That spend totaled $24.3 million and went to 1,267 businesses.

Broken down further, the report showed:

  • Total spend for businesses whose majority owner is female: 4 percent ($9.4 million that went to 472 businesses.)
  • Total spend for businesses whose majority owner is minority: 4 percent ($9 million that went to 436 businesses).
  • Total spend for businesses whose majority owner is both minority AND female: 2 percent ($5.8 million that went to 456 businesses).

While Birmingham’s results compare favorably with some cities that issue similar reports – New York City reported 4.9 percent spend in 2020 – city leaders said today’s report is a starting point that will be used to build on moving forward.

“The results show we have a long way to go to maximize opportunities for minority- and women-owned businesses,” said Cornell Wesley, the director of the city of Birmingham’s Department of Innovation and Economic Opportunity. “Today’s report is an important first step, but it is just that — a first step. Now, we must move forward deliberately and intentionally to diversify our city’s vendor portfolio.”

Mayor Woodfin and Wesley outlined a series of action steps that will be used in the future to improve the city’s system for keeping track of this information and to increase opportunities for minority- and women-owned businesses.

Among the action steps:

Other licensed businesses are also encouraged to submit registration forms.

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  • Create a database of minority-owned, women-owned and other disadvantaged businesses that can help the city as well as other agencies, companies and institutions diversify vendors.
  • Establish more consistency in procurement practices among city departments and agencies.
  • Proactively seek local minority- and women-owned businesses to provide needed goods and services.
  • Continue to offer and support programs that encourage entrepreneurship and strengthen small businesses.
  • Publish an annual Opportunity Guide that forecasts the city’s anticipated purchases so that all vendors are aware of potential opportunities.

In committing to initiate this report for the city, Mayor Woodfin also challenged other corporate and institutional leaders to assess their own diverse spending and to make that information public.

That report will be issued in coming weeks.

“Building an inclusive economy requires intentionality in purchasing and procurement processes,” said Myla Calhoun, vice president of Alabama Power’s Birmingham Division. “At Alabama Power, we’re committed to supporting local businesses and creating economic opportunities for minority-owned, women-owned, and other disadvantaged business enterprises. We commend the city of Birmingham for its strategic efforts in this critical area.”

Business leaders said the goal of diversifying vendor portfolios is not just to expand opportunity but to strengthen the region’s economy overall.

“The city and companies that signed on to the VITAL pledge are taking an important first step for economic growth for all in our community and are unified in the process of reporting their spending with minority-, women-owned and disadvantaged business enterprises,” said Victor Brown, vice president of business development at the Birmingham Business Alliance. “They have a strong commitment to break down barriers that have left underrepresented businesses out of the competition for lucrative contracts with their companies. As the VITAL Program moves forward, each participant will champion a cause and respond to the clarion call to increase procurement of products and services from MWDBEs.

“This effort will bridge the gap between larger corporations in our region and the small businesses that want and need to do business with them,” Brown said. “It is our hope these early reports will serve as a foundation to strengthen economic security for everyone in Birmingham and the region and bring other companies to take action to do business with highly-qualified and capable minority businesses.”

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