With Epps’ Departure, Philly Government Must Maintain its Commitment to Business Diversity
By Malik Majeed, President, CEO & General Counsel
After a little more than four years on the job, Philadelphia’s Commerce Director and my friend Harold T. Epps is departing for a return to the private sector.
It’s a huge loss for the Kenney Administration because Harold has been very active and engaged not just with growing Philadelphia commerce in general, but particularly with regard to minority participation in commercial activities. His actions have shown a deep sensitivity to minorities and minority businesses, with the goal of abating poverty through inclusion.
Harold’s leadership led to an increase in city contracts for minority and disability-owned businesses. His growth strategy attempted to include all of the city’s neighborhoods, and he opened the city’s first Office of Workforce Development, another opportunity for the minority community.
Harold and I arrived at PRWT Services, Inc. in the fall of 2007. We worked very closely together, and I can testify I learned quite a lot from him–and I hope he learned a few things from me before I succeeded him as President and CEO in 2015. Like many great leaders, Harold encouraged everyone around him to share their ideas freely. I’m sure that’s the model he used in city government as well to move his initiatives forward.
Despite Harold’s pending departure from the city, I am optimistic because of the trend he has established. Mayor Kenney announced at his annual Chamber of Commerce address made it clear he intends to see Philadelphia continue to grow economically and inclusively. In promoting Harold’s successor, Sylvie Gallier Howard, who has worked under Harold as first deputy, the mayor said his expectation is for her to continue the momentum now in place. Best wishes to Ms. Howard as she carries that torch forward.
And of course, a huge thank you and congratulations to Harold for his work and success over the last four years. I– and the entire PRWT family– re excited for his next chapter.
Philadelphia Inquirer Philadelphia should improve contract process to meet goals for diverse businesses
By Malik Majeed, Guest Columnist
October 23, 2019
Earlier this month, Philadelphia held its Minority Enterprise Development (MED) Week 2019 to highlight minority businesses and connect them to resources that can help their firms grow. At my Philly-based firm, PRWT, we commend the city’s efforts to lift up minority firms and try to level the playing field. But if officials are serious about working with more diverse businesses, there is one thing I think they need to do better: Use discretion.
Applying for city contracts is often cumbersome. As a Philadelphia-based company in business for more than 30 years, we know this process well. After a request for proposal (RFP) is publicly announced and posted on the city’s website, firms will spend countless hours completing it, filing hundreds of pages of documents requested by the city and triple-checking all the legal paperwork. Although we have been established for three decades and understand Philadelphia’s RFP process better than most, there are still times when the lengthy process gets the better of our team and one “i” may go un-dotted, or one “t” uncrossed.
While rare, these instances of minor administrative oversight have cost our company business with the city. If this can happen to us — the largest minority-owned business in Philadelphia — it can certainly happen to smaller firms that don’t have the administrative staff dedicated to breaking through the red tape.
To be clear: I am not asking for the city to “hand out” contracts to firms simply because they check off the right boxes. Rather, I am advocating for more meaningful discretion when reviewing proposals than saying no to capable firms because they, for example, neglected to include one form out of 200-plus pages of documents. If the city wants to meet its self-published and admirable goal of 35 percent participation from enterprises owned by women, people of color, and people with disabilities, then it must stop disqualifying firms over de minimis mistakes.
The city is beginning to realize this. The procurement department recently proposed new regulations that would address some of the issues I am raising, including making distinctions between material and immaterial omissions and allowing a grace period of 10 days to correct any inadvertent or reasonable mistakes made in applications.
However, their efforts have to extend further. The city’s team of contracting experts can join with third-party firms and agencies experienced with the procurement process to develop a best practices guide for contracting with Philadelphia. This would provide a road map, or “Insider’s Guide,” to educate vendors of all sizes on how to submit their bids to meet all of the city’s requirements, and on contracting language that can be confusing or overwhelming. In fact, the city could formalize this process with a grant they received this summer from City Accelerator, a program that advises cities on devising policies that improve conditions for low-income communities.
The city’s focus has been increasing its minority-and-women-owned participation levels and providing adequate enforcement through the Office of Economic Opportunity, ensuring diverse firms receive the appropriate amount of work and payment as stipulated in the contract, which should be a priority. However, it is just as important to provide educational resources and tools that allow all firms to understand what is required to become a city contractor. Education is key if the city really wants to remove barriers prohibiting minority firms of all sizes from working in the city.
According to the City’s reports, it has not yet achieved its goal of 35% minority participation. As firms have learned this month, there are many opportunities for small, diverse businesses to compete in our city, but too few dollars actually going to these companies.
While Philadelphia recently experienced a slight drop in its poverty rate for the first time in a decade, it continues to be the poorest large city in the United States. Providing better resources for minority firms to contract with the city needs should join the list of the city’s poverty-reducing priorities. It will provide low-income families with jobs and keep more city dollars in our neighborhoods.
A little more guidance and leeway upfront could have significant long term effects for those who often have fewer opportunities than most to begin with.
Malik Majeed is the president, CEO, and general counsel of PRWT Services, Inc., the largest minority-owned company in Philadelphia.
We have provided consistent business excellence for more than three decades, and lists like these recognize that. Along with making our clients, employees and communities a priority, we strive to be a model to other black businesses to show that success is attainable, so we take this recognition from Black Enterprise seriously.
We know there are still too few businesses with majority African American ownership. We try to do our part to change that by both setting an example for other businesses, and putting our money where our mouth is, encouraging and hiring other highly qualified Black-owned firms as subcontractors. In addition, we engage in discussions at the city and state level around diversity numbers and mentor black students so they see examples in front of them of people who look like them in management positions and running an organization.
It is imperative that we continue to have discussions around this topic, and make sure we are doing everything we can to lift up other minority businesses.
Thank you, Black Enterprise, for celebrating the success of the country’s 100 largest black businesses, and adding an important element to the discussion around minority representation.