(TRENTON) - As part of the Murphy Administration's ongoing efforts to broaden opportunities for Minority, Women, and Veteran-Owned Business Enterprises (MWVBEs), the Department of the Treasury's Office of Diversity and Inclusion is making great progress in overseeing a statewide disparity study, engaging more than 70 state agencies and over 500 individuals through a recent series of virtual town halls.
The purpose of the disparity study, the first of its kind since 2003, is to evaluate the participation of MWVBEs in the State's multi-billion dollar contracting universe and determine if additional programs are warranted to ensure a level playing field for those looking to do business with the State.
"This study is about much more than hard numbers. It's about identifying barriers that may have held back minority, women and veteran-owned businesses from securing opportunities with the State, and determining how we can create a more equitable business environment for all," said State Treasurer Elizabeth Maher Muoio. "Treasury is committed to finding new avenues to engage diverse businesses in the many professional opportunities the State has to offer."
The disparity study is being overseen by Chief Diversity Officer Hester Agudosi and conducted by Mason Tillman Associates, LTD, who was selected as the winning bidder after a rigorous procurement process. The goal is to research, structure, and conduct a comprehensive and legally defensible disparity study of the State's contract awards in construction, goods, and services over a five year period (July 1, 2015 through June 30, 2020) to determine whether there is a disparity between the number of qualified minority, women, and veteran-owned businesses ready, willing, and able to perform services, and the number of vendors/contractors actually engaged to perform such services.
More than 70 state departments, agencies, authorities, and public institutions of higher education have been engaged to provide utilization data for the study, which is currently being reviewed. Ultimately, the information may be used to fashion race- and/or gender-neutral, and if necessary, race- and gender-conscious methods to narrow the disparity in the awarding of state contracts and employment by state vendors.
While laws have been passed to create additional set asides for minority- and women-owned businesses, the courts have ruled that the programs cannot be implemented until a complete disparity study is conducted to produce the data necessary to determine if those set asides are warranted.
Just recently, Treasury held a series of successful virtual town halls designed to raise awareness of the effort and discuss how businesses can get involved. Study vendor Mason Tillman and Associates worked with business organizations throughout the state, including the African American Chamber of Commerce, the Statewide Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and the NJ Veterans Chamber of Commerce, to ensure MWVBEs across New Jersey are counted.
As a result, more than 20,000 businesses were invited to the events and over 550 individual participants attended, with many expressing an interest in being interviewed for the study. Mason Tillman is also urging individual businesses to be counted by emailing: NJDisparityStudy@mtaltd.com.
The disparity study is part of Treasury's concerted, broad-based effort to expand opportunities for Minority, Women, and Veteran-Owned businesses. A video was created for the virtual town halls to document these efforts and provide participants with an overview of the opportunities and services available to those who are interested.
The video highlights the fact that Treasury began waiving the $100 fee earlier this year to become certified as a Small, Minority, Women, Veteran, or Disabled Veteran Business Enterprise (SMWVBE), which provides state-backed documentation of a business' status and allows businesses to compete in select set-aside or goal-based contracting initiatives offered by State agencies. Businesses can apply for certification in any of these categories through Treasury's online portal.
The State currently has two set aside programs – a 25 percent set aside for small businesses and a three percent set aside for service disabled veteran-owned businesses. Treasury has been working with the New Jersey Veterans Chamber of Commerce to provide training to state departments, authorities, colleges, and universities to ensure compliance with the State's Service Disabled Veteran Owned Business mandate and to develop a more robust supply chain of certified disabled veteran-owned businesses.
The video also spotlights the new Diversity Portfolio Manager position that was created within Treasury's Division of Investment last year to identify diverse investment fund managers, brokers, consultants and advisors to help manage the State's roughly $94 billion pension fund.
Additionally, Treasury's Division of Revenue and Enterprise Services has implemented a streamlined, web-based SMWVBE business certification service that makes the process more user-friendly by allowing businesses to certify in more than one category with only one application. To complement the new service, Treasury overhauled the regulations governing SMWVBE certification to create a more streamlined, business-friendly process that, among other things, only requires recertification every three years, rather than annually.