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Ogdensburg Bridge and Port Authority pledges to meet contracting goals

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OGDENSBURG — After expressing concerns that state contracting standards were too stringent, the Ogdensburg Bridge and Port Authority is affirming its intent to meet a threshold for the hiring of minority- and woman-owned businesses.

“We are working toward MWBE compliance and it is a priority for the authority,” said Samuel J. LaMacchia, authority chairman.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo set a goal that 20 percent of all public contracts would go to minority- or woman-owned business enterprises, or MWBEs. Under previous rules, the OBPA had a self-imposed goal of 10 percent MWBE contracts.

At their Dec. 13 meeting, authority officials complained that the goals would be difficult to live up to because of a dearth of local MWBEs. The OBPA’s deputy executive director, Frederick S. Morrill, is also responsible for efforts to meet the goal.

“We urge North Country Minority or Women-owned Businesses to become New York State MWBE certified,” he said in a news release.

The state Division of Minority and Women’s Business Development certifies MWBEs. They are defined as “an on-going independent business owned, operated and controlled by minority group members and/or women.” Per the state’s rules, the businesses must have existed for at least a year and 51 percent of control must be in the hands of women or minorities.

Alan R. Culbreath, an analyst for the Division of Minority and Women Business Development, defended the policy’s intent, arguing that companies owned by minorities and women are already receiving a higher percentage of public business.

“If you go back three years, you will see a drastic difference between what was done prior to 2010 and what has happened since,” he said. “The disparity in the numbers themselves are great. You have agencies that were doing a participation rate at 2 and 3 percent that are now at 17 and 18 percent, and that alone is an improvement, which means the potential was there.”

In a 2006 report, the Division found only 3 percent of all state procurement contracts were awarded to businesses owned by women or minorities. Under a less stringent set of policies adopted by previous administrations, that number increased to nearly 10 percent in 2010.

The governor’s goal has been extended to state and regional economic development grants, requiring public authorities and other recipients to try to award at least 20 percent of their contracts to minority- and woman-owned businesses.

“The only caveat is that if you absolutely cannot meet those standards, you have to request a waiver through the executive chamber,” Mr. Culbreath said.

It appears, then, that the standard is more of a soft target. Mr. Culbreath said agencies that fail to meet the 20 percent mark will be judged on the sincerity of their effort.

“If we find you did not put forth a good-faith effort, the penalty can be that your funding will be given to another agency,” he said. “To date, no one has been penalized, but they will be evaluated at the end of this fiscal year in March 2013.”

The north country’s lack of diversity won’t let recipients off the hook, he said.

“It is known that some areas of the state are having difficulty meeting the 20 percent, but you can go outside of your region to meet your goals,” Mr. Culbreath said. “That will be something authorities will be judged by, also, whether they reach out to those MWBEs in other regions. That may entail an increased cost factor.”

That means the OBPA may have to pay more to hire contractors from outside of the north country.

“The response is that the governor is focused on the 20 percent, the response is to hit that number by any means necessary — even if it means you are neglecting your own community, which is absurd,” said Mr. Culbreath. “Personally, I would go with trying to take care of home first.”

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