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Disparity Study Could Prompt Change For Minority-, Women-Owned Businesses In Hamilton County

Neosha Gardner
CreateHer Stock

Hamilton County is conducting a disparity study to see how small minority- and women-owned businesses work with the county. The results could prompt change, making it easier for such businesses to get county contracts and procurements.

"The idea of the disparity study is to make sure that we have a level set (for) the conversation about participation in the county," Commissioner Denise Driehaus said. "Without the disparity study, we don't know where we stand, and we've been trying anecdotally to figure out what kind of participation we have from a broad swath of things that we do. But this really gets to the meat of it."

The process of collecting county data from Jan. 1, 2016, through June 30, 2021, is already underway. The second part of the study involves community input.

That process will include community meetings to collect verbal and written testimony, telephone business surveys, and 40 in-depth interviews. During a public meeting Tuesday, some small businesses spoke about their experiences working with the county.

Clifford Bailey, president and CEO of TechSoft Systems, says he's been in the local business community for over 30 years. For him, gathering the data for the study is a moot point if it won't result in changes.

"But at the end of the day, what's going to be different? Because there are systematic policies and procedures that prevent those of us of color from doing business with the county," he said. "It has been that way … If we're only collecting data to prove that there has been systematic, systemic, painful, disgruntled processes that have kept people from doing business, we're going to end up in the same place."

Stephanie Ayers is an associate at BBC Research & Consulting, which is heading the study. She said the objective is to see small minority- and women-owned businesses participate in county contracts and procurements. But the organization will also help the county decide what the next steps are after they receive the analysis.

"We're also going to be providing a great deal of guidance around policy and program recommendations that the county can make to better encourage the participation of small minority- and women-owned businesses and its contracts moving forward," she said.

Commissioner Driehaus says the study was prompted after the county declared racism a public health crisis last year, and is a way to formally show where the county stands.

"What are those barriers? And how do we interact with that and do better as a county to say, 'We want to be a welcoming county, we want people to be able to participate in every facet? How is it that we get there? Because we're not there right now," she said.

The county has set up a page on its website with more information about the study and opportunities for people to anonymously share their experiencesworking with the county. Comments will be part of the project team's analyses of local marketplace conditions.

Jolene Almendarez is the granddaughter of Mexican immigrants who came to San Antonio in the 1960s. She was raised in a military family and has always called the city home. She studied journalism at San Antonio College and earned a bachelor's degree in Journalism and Public Communications from the University of Alaska Anchorage. She's been a reporter in San Antonio and Castroville, Texas, and in Syracuse and Ithaca, New York.