When a business is certified to contract through New York State it opens the door to a network of opportunities and resources. According to the U.S. Census data from 2016, Central New York is home to over 10,000 minority or women-owned businesses enterprises (MWBE), and yet less than 5% that are certified to contract through New York State. This means that 95% of them are missing out on key resources, support, and opportunities.
In 2019, Jubilee Homes, an organization that commits to reducing crime by providing housing opportunities for low-income families, joined forces with Diversify-NY to change this. The collaboration began hosting monthly certification assistance workshops for business owners to learn how to apply for a New York State contract. Diversify-NY works to identify, create, and promote opportunities that support the advancement of MWBE.
“These workshops make economic sense not only because they will help retain and build local capacity, but also address under-utilization and waiver rates on state contracts,” said Walter Dixie, executive director of Jubilee Homes.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Jubilee Homes and Diversify-NY were challenged to restructure and identify a strategic way to support MWBE during this challenging time. Jubilee Homes was planning to open a new building on West Onondaga Street to provide more opportunities for the Diversify-NY MWBE workshops. A $10,000 grant from the Central New York Community Foundation supported those efforts. To maintain social distancing guidelines, they transition those workshops to a virtual platform.
“We were, fortunately, able to pivot and sustain by building an online curriculum hosted monthly via zoom and listed via Eventbrite,” said Rickey Brown, principal consultant for Diversify-NY. “We have continued hosting, and with internet access that has been rather seamless.”
The pandemic disrupted large plans for the Jubilee Homes and Diversify-NY. It interrupted Diversify-NY’s ability to hire new staff as well as halted its planned expansion into four counties. But even though they were thrown some unexpected challenges, Diversify-NY was able to create accessible resources that supported MWBE.
“Our major accomplishment through this all was building an online magazine that had allowed us to extend our reach including six continents within the first issue, said Brown. “By building this platform our MWBE’s have expanded their visibility, capacity in some cases through extended opportunities, and created even more space to attract procurement opportunities.”