Asheville Business Inclusion Initiative

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Asheville City Council passed the City of Asheville Business Inclusion Contracting Policy on October 27, 2020. The policy addresses the disparities highlighted in the 2018 Disparity Study with specific measures to increase the utilization of minority-owned, women-owned and other small businesses in City contracts.  This policy is the result of months of collaboration between many City department team members and careful research. The policy is scheduled to go into effect on January 1, 2021.

Opportunities to Engage

Happening now! The City is proud to partner with the Mountain Business Equity Initiative, an exciting new organization that will act on reducing disparities in City contracting for local business owners of color.  Over the next few months, local business owners of color can join the community cohort for free and valuable trainings unique to the community’s needs. See below for a schedule, and register for the community cohort here. The courses are self-paced with member meetings every Tuesday from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Admission for the cohort is open through October 16, 2020. Full participants are eligible for free trainings, micro grants, Chrome laptop lending library; access to business readiness checklists, a liberation library, entrepreneur pipeline, and community resource lists; listings in and other business directories; and a Certificate of Completion.

**The first meeting takes place at 4:30 p.m. on September 15, 2020. Click here to register

Schedule of upcoming trainings:

Week of September 15, 2020:  Entrepreneurial Mindset: Creating Versus Reacting

Week of September 22: Legacy and History of Black Enterprise

Week of September 29: Vision Roadmap and Business Planning: Taking Inventory

Week of October 6: Online Communication and Resources in the era of COVID-19

Week of October 13: Building Action Beyond White Supremacy Culture

Week of October 20: What If…? I Have the Courage to Create

Week of October 26: Sustainability: Balancing Profit, People and Planet

Week of November 3: Brand, Reputation, Integrity and Accountability

Week of November 10: Procurement and Contracting

Week of November 17: Solidarity and Abundance as Economic Mobility

Week of November 24: Outreach and Engagement

Week of December 1: Human Relations and Resources

Week of December 8: Building Resilience


You can also learn more about what the Asheville Business Inclusion Office does on our main page. To stay informed of opportunities to connect with us or to take advantage of support activities, subscribe to the Business Inclusion Office newsletter, which comes out twice a month.

If you have feedback or questions about any of our programs or efforts, please email the Business Inclusion Manager, Rosanna Fox Mulcahy or call 828-259-8050.


The Challenge

A disparity study in 2018 established that the City of Asheville contracting continues to exhibit significant racial and gender disparities. In other words, the demographics of businesses we contract with do not reflect the demographics of our community.

This initiative through the Asheville Business Inclusion Office undertakes both internal process reform and external business support, as well as capacity-building, in order to eliminate these disparities.


The Plan

The City of Asheville’s approach starts by recognizing that the disparities we observe today result from overtly racist and sexist policies in the past combined with present-day policies and procedures that, while not overtly racist or sexist, nevertheless actively perpetuate those disparities. Addressing the combined impact of these factors requires both internal and external work and, importantly, will take sustained effort over time.

The 2019-2020 fiscal year is the first year of operation of the newly renamed and reorganized Asheville Business Inclusion Office, following the disparity study of 2018. Starting July 1, 2019, the Office is following this plan. Highlights of the plan this year include:

  • Development of a Small Business Enterprise (SBE) certification and an associated Shelter Market program.  Modeled after a Charlotte program, this allows the City to make some opportunities available only to certified businesses, thus giving smaller developing businesses a chance to build capacity and establish themselves.
  • Make the Business Inclusion Program race- and gender-conscious. This more targeted approach can help us better address existing disparities and break down some of the barriers that the impacted business owners face.
  • Create additional targeted training opportunities that complement existing programs. A targeted approach can provide training that directly addresses the challenges faced by African-American business owners.
  • Implement a direct loan program for SBE certified businesses. Minorities and women face higher-than-average barriers in gaining access to capital. This program will use awarded City contracts as collateral to ease access to capital and speed processing of the loans.
  • Implement internal technology and process changes. While not part of the formal plan, significant changes are needed to change systems and processes that perpetuate racial and gender disparities, as well as to support data collection and reporting.


What’s Happening Now?

Over the course of 2020, City staff from across different departments have developed the City of Asheville Business Inclusion Contracting Policy, which is a race and gender conscious policy. The policy contains specific measures designed to increase the use of small, minority-, and women-owned businesses in City contracting and was passed by City Council in October 2020.

We are actively working on data systems that will allow us to provide ongoing performance results and will also soon share a report on last year’s results, which we will share here.

For now, the 2018 Disparity Study provides an initial baseline for our performance. As may be seen in the report, with the exception of white women and Latinx/Hispanic business owners in construction, both women and minorities face significant disparities (a disparity index below 80 reflects substantial under-utilization).

Recent Milestones, Events & Lessons

October 2020

  • City of Asheville Business Inclusion Contracting Policy was passed by City Council on October 27, 2020. Read the full policy.

May-September 2020

  • City of Asheville Business Inclusion Contracting Policy drafted

Between May and September, a team of employees from various City departments created the new City of Asheville Business Inclusion Contracting Policy. This policy will help to expand opportunities in city contracting to more minority- and woman-owned businesses. The policy is planned to go into effect in January of 2021.

March 2020

  • Internal procurement training event

On March 4, 2020, a staff training event was held to introduce the changes made to procurement procedures.

February 2020

  • How to become a vendor training held
  • Mountain Business Equity Initiative contract approved by City Council
  • Planning for centralized bid management begins

January 2020

  • Semi-monthly Coffee Huddles kickoff event
  • Exploration of race- and gender-conscious procurement policy begins

December 2019

  • SBE Certification Program finalized

November 2019

  • Vendor Self-Service (VSS) module purchased for City procurement systems

VSS lets vendors maintain their own information in our procurement systems, but also allows us for the first time to track records on all vendors, not just those with contracts. This is critical for tracking available businesses, as well as for building more effective outreach programs. The new module will be enabled for new vendors by March 2020, and for all vendors by May.

October 2019

  • Mountain Community Capital Fund launches
  • Symposium on strengthening the economic inclusion ecosystem of WNC

September 2019

  • Engagement begins with Johns Hopkins’ Center for Government Excellence (GovEx)

As part of the City’s participation in What Works Cities, staff from the Business Inclusion Office, Capital Projects, and IT kicked off a 6-month engagement to identify ways to use data to improve outcomes for the program.

July 2019

  • Asheville Business Inclusion Office established

The City of Asheville began the 2019-2020 budget year by establishing the Asheville Business Inclusion Office to replace the minority business program. For the first time, the Office received an independent budget to fund its first-year plan following the 2018 Disparity Study.

  • Community Planning + Action Cohort begins work

A group of eight local business owners and community members began meeting to develop a research-based strategy to respond to disparities and to shape policy, practice, access, and opportunity for entrepreneurs and owners of color.


Contact Information

Rosanna Fox Mulcahy, Business Inclusion Manager
Community and Economic Development Department


City of Asheville
70 Court Plaza, Fifth Floor, Asheville NC 28801

Mail to:
City of Asheville
P.O. Box 7148, Asheville NC 28802


Updated 10/23/2020

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