Starting later this month, Binghamton University will be helping minority- and women-run business contractors navigate their competitive industry.
The Binghamton University Small Business Development Center (SBDC) will begin a training and certification program for minority and women business contractors on Feb. 24 on Water Street in Downtown Binghamton. This is in line with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s new goal to utilize more minority- and women-owned business enterprises (MWBE) in state contracts. The goal requires that MWBEs provide commodities and services for 30 percent of all state contracts, up from the previous 20 percent.
Jocelyn Thornton, a business adviser at the SBDC, said the new initiative is relatively unprecedented.
“Thirty percent is the highest goal for minority and women businesses in the United States,” Thornton said. “It’s very aggressive.”
It is not always easy for large contractors and government agents to find enough minority and women business owners in the Binghamton area, Thornton said. The program aims to remedy this by helping to certify and train more MWBEs.
The six-week course will cover topics such as construction accounting, credit strategies, insurance, banking and financing as well as claims and dispute resolution. The program will also teach participants how to bid for contracts.
According to Thornton, Empire State Development — New York’s chief economic development agency — recognized a lack in MWBEs in construction contracts. These contracts are often the longest lasting and most expensive due to the labor and materials they require. The construction industry is composed of subcontractors such as plumbers, electricians and architects — businesses Thornton hopes to attract to the program.
According to Matthew Schofield, the director of procurement at BU, 2 percent of businesses in the Southern Tier are certified minority-run, and 10 percent are certified women-run. Empire State Development began the program to increase these numbers.
As a state-funded institution, BU must use MWBEs for its procurements. According to Schofield, finding certified businesses and vendors was difficult, especially for things such as technical equipment used in labs.
“There are minority business that are starting up that may be in office supplies, and it’s going to be hard to compete with Staples and Office Max,” Schofield said.
Bill Panko, director of specialty procurement at BU, said that many of the MWBEs are small businesses or are just starting out. According to Panko, the initiative gives these businesses an opportunity to compete with larger ones with training and certification. After being certified, these small businesses could be in high demand because of the 30 percent goal.
“I think our number one goal would be to have local MWBEs to satisfy our requirements from New York state,” Schofield said. “It’s a two-for-one. You’re supporting the local economy and the MWBE initiative.”
According to Thornton, the MWBE certified businesses may even be more appealing than non-certified businesses, as contractors and state agents are trying to reach their 30 percent requirement.
The program is sponsored by local businesses such as Associated Building Contractors of the Triple Cities, Inc., along with BU, and is free to participants. Four business owners have already registered for the course.
Thornton said she urges business owners to take advantage of the program.
“It may not be free in the future,” Thornton said. “This is one of those things where the state is giving back to the community.”