Harris County awards disproportionately few of its contracts to minority- and women-owned businesses, with Black-owned businesses receiving the most discriminatory treatment, according to a study sponsored by the Harris County Commissioners Court. The findings could help the county establish a legal basis for taking steps to remediate the discrimination.
The study, conducted by the government consulting firm Colette Holt & Associates, compared the amount of minority- and women-owned businesses that were tapped for county contracts to the number that were available to perform the types of work the county was looking for. It found that while contracting businesses owned by white males made up 72 percent of the market, they received 91 percent of the contracts, by dollar amount. In contrast, while Black-owned businesses made up 8.4 percent of the market and received 0.5 percent of contracts.
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“While the city of Houston is one of the most diverse cities in the United States, it is unconscionable that Black-owned firms make up less than 1 percent of government and procurement contracts awarded in Harris County,” the Greater Houston Black Chamber wrote. The city’s first African American civic organization called for immediate rectification of the issue. “There is an inextricable connection between the health of businesses and the communities they serve, which is why it is so important that Black businesses have the opportunities afforded to other groups.”
While Black businesses received the greatest disproportionately low number of contracts, all minorities and women were underrepresented in contracts compared to the share of businesses they own. Asian-owned contracting businesses accounted for 3 percent of the market but only 0.6 percent of contracts, Native American-owned businesses made up 0.4 percent of the market but only 0.1 percent of contracts, Hispanic-owned businesses made up 11 percent of the market but only 5 percent of contracts and business owned by white women made up 6 percent of the market but only 3 percent of contracts.
“Many minority and women business owners reported that they continue to encounter discriminatory attitudes, stereotypes and negative perceptions of their qualifications, professionalism and capabilities,” Colette Holt & Associates wrote in its report. “The assumption is that (such business owners) are less qualified, and their work is worth less.”
The firm recommended Harris County set up a system that could collect data on contracts and subcontracts to make it easy to track the industry, race, gender, dollar amount and procurement method of each, which the county does not currently do.
In addition, it recommended creating an Office of Economic Opportunity and Equity Department to oversee outreach to minority- and women-owned businesses and small firms and unbundle large, complex contracts into smaller projects with lower dollar values to make it easier for smaller businesses to secure contracts.