Recently, the Business Inclusion Office contracted with the local temporary staffing firm UpStaff Personnel Inc to help contact women and BIPOC business owners for City of Asheville certification. This helped to increase the number of these businesses certified as Minority and Women Owned Business Enterprises (MWBEs) through our office. Getting these businesses certified is one of the most important parts of the City’s Business Inclusion Policy that passed last year, the goal of which is to increase the number of MWBEs that participate in City contracts and purchases. The Policy directs a number of changes to the way we purchase and contract with vendors, including requiring outreach to MWBEs certified with the City for these opportunities.
We wanted to share the reflections of Francia LaGuerre, who helped complete this project to get MWBEs certified with the City. She did a wonderful job and we were grateful to have her assistance. We believe her insights about what it’s like to work with these businesses is very valuable for anyone who needs to complete MWBE outreach for contracts or purchases. Please read on to hear from Francia:
My name is Francia LaGuerre. I have been working with the Community and Economic Development Department since late June as a temporary MWBE Certification Associate. During my time here I’ve been actively seeking to identify and certify minority and women-owned businesses so they can have more opportunities to provide goods and services to the City.
This experience has been very effective overall. I noticed that the majority of people who answered were thrilled to hear from us. They were excited about the opportunity to work with the City, but there was a hint of surprise in their voices when I explained my intentions. A large majority of the businesses could not believe the City of Asheville was actively seeking to assist them with getting certified so they’d have access to potential city contracting opportunities. A third of the contacts were hesitant to listen when I mentioned I was “contacting on behalf of The City of Asheville.” They didn’t think the City cared to help minorities and women. It brought me great joy to have a positive impact on that perspective. Based on the information gathered over the last 4 months an average of 100 applications were submitted with about 90 certified.
This project is very close to my heart. I am so thankful for this opportunity to support the Community and Economic Development Department. I was equally as thankful to support minority and women-owned businesses. Interacting with people who were hesitant because they weren’t used to receiving that much support and active care from The City was my favorite part of the outreach. There seems to be a disconnect at times between MWBEs and the City itself, especially the minority category. There is a lack of trust there but I’ve learned that a little effort goes a long way.
Reaching out and speaking to the public is a great way to regain trust and connect with the minority and women owned business community. You may encounter some abrasive tones here and there from a few people who may receive a lot of telemarketing calls. They usually have a quick change of heart once they hear the intentions behind the call. It’s important to keep in mind that the businesses may be busy and may even be understaffed. Be clear and to the point when informing them of the reason for the call. I highly suggest these methods of outreach to MWBEs in the future. I enjoyed connecting with this community and hope they get the opportunity to provide goods or services for the City at some point as they desire.