Fort Worth looking at making it easier for outside firms to seek MWBE contracts

By Scott Nishimura

Fort Worth is proposing to change its minority and women-owned contracting ordinance, making it easier for firms with headquarters outside North Texas to apply for MWBE-favored contracts as long as they have an established business in the area.

One proposal, being vetted by the city staff, would allow firms that have an “established place of business in the marketplace,” and with at least 40 percent of employees “regularly based” here, to apply for MWBE contracts and receive “preference points” that help determine who wins contracts.

A second proposal, also being reviewed by the staff, would allow firms headquarted elsewhere but that have an “established bonafide business within the marketplace” to apply for MWBE contracts and receive preference points.

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The city’s MWBE advisory committee has approved the proposals, but requested more time to work on language, Robert Sturns, the city’s business recruitment and retention manager, told City Council members Tuesday. Council members are tentatively scheduled to vote in November on the proposals, part of a broader number of changes in the Fort Worth MWBE ordinance.

The proposals regarding place of business should increase the number of construction contractors that are eligible to apply for contracts, Sturns said. That’s long been a weak spot for the city, which has been in talks for months with the industry on possible ordinance changes.

“This is one we’ve been wrestling with for some time now,” Sturns told the council.

Council members lauded the staff for the proposals.

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“I want to see the black business presence in this community grow, and I think this will help,” Council member Gyna Bivens, who represents the Fort Worth district that stretches from Stop Six through Handley and to CentrePort.

Council member Kelly Allen Gray, who represents the Southeast Fort Worth District 8, asked for better definitions of some key criterion, including “established place” and “regularly based.” The proposed changes go “a long way, but a lot of times, we leave a lot of things to be inferred,” Gray said.

“We do have to continue to build capacity; that’s going to take some continued effort,” Councilman Sal Espino, who represents the North Side, said. “This is not an easy issue, but a lot of good folks are working on it.”

It’s “tough…to try and define everything and get a good balance, and you all are making good progress at it,” Mayor Betsy Price told Sturns.

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Proof of an established business locally goes beyond a local address, Sturns said.

“It can’t be a mailbox, it can’t be a post office box,” he said in an interview. “You’ve got to have an office in place.”

The current ordinance excludes firms whose “principal place of business” is outside the six-county area from receiving preference points under the MWBE ordinance. They may, however, still apply.

That ordinance has excluded some number of firms from outside the area that have built businesses in the area over the last several years, Sturns said.

The 40 percent threshold is “a high number,” but the proposed changes “will open up opportunity for them,” he said.