48 business leaders and clergy push for economic support for Miami-Dade’s Black community

Mark A. Hill for MDEAT/Mark A. Hill for of MDEAT

Black business leaders are asking Miami-Dade County for support in helping minority-owned businesses obtain more government contracts for “equitable economic development.”

In an ad in the Miami Herald on Monday, 48 local Black business leaders and clergy members cited a lack of support and resources at the county level to help Black-owned businesses have greater participation in Miami’s economy.

“The Black community makes up nearly 20% of Miami-Dade county’s population, yet we participate in less than 2% of its governmental economic engine,” the ad paid by OneUnited Bank said. It was citing the 2015 Miami-Dade County disparity study.

“Each day that we are left out of the economic engine, our community gets poorer while others prosper,” the ad said.

The group behind the call to action is seeking seven measures that include “race-blind to race-conscious” contract procurement, projects that connect the Black community to the regional economy and transparency and accountability in dealmaking.

Miami-Dade Chamber of Commerce President and CEO G. Eric Knowles, one of the supporters, said he believes concern about this issue has been brewing since the beginning of the pandemic. The impact of the pandemic on Black businesses in Miami has only underscored the difficulties Miami’s Black community faces on the economic front.

“Put policy in place, but make sure those that enforce and move those policies understand that it is not just something written on a piece of paper, but something that they must do,” he said. “We’ve been in this cesspool of a lot of rhetoric and no action.”

Knowles said as Black businesses in Miami grow, the Black community in other professional areas in Miami will as well.

OneUnited Bank President Teri Williams said that equitable economic development is a national movement and matters for cities such as Miami with underserved Black populations. OneUnited Bank is the largest Black-owned bank in the United States and has a branch in Liberty City.

“We like to think that we can do better than this and we are a community that does welcome diversity and entrepreneurship,” she said. “We have all of the ingredients, we’re just not being intentional about it.”

For Williams, that economic development includes housing, job creation beyond minimum wage work, and helping Black Miami residents create generational wealth that can help Miami’s Black business community thrive.

County racial equity challenges

Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said she thought the ad highlighted challenges with racial equity her administration is trying to improve.

“I certainly agree with the general proposition and have been working hard on exactly those issues,” she said in a telephone interview.

Levine Cava established an Office of Equity and Inclusion weeks after winning the 2020 election and has pledged to improve county government’s spending with Black-owned businesses.

In April, she announced her administration launched a study to look at the race of owners behind companies with contracts in the county’s $3 billion yearly procurement budget.

Once a study can prove wide racial disparity in government contracting decisions, Miami-Dade can ask a federal judge to allow purchase managers to include the race of a bidder in the decision-making process for awarding contracts.

Miami-Dade is under a court order from 2004 requiring contract decisions be race-neutral. Miami-Dade’s last “disparity” study, conducted in 2015, found Black-owned firms received only 2% of the county’s construction contracts and 10% of the contracts for purchasing goods.

That study also concluded Miami-Dade hadn’t been tracking racial statistics in the way lawyers needed to overturn current rules, a process that has since been fixed, said Jason Smith, Levine Cava’s equity director.

“The county itself wasn’t collecting data sufficient to withstand a court challenge,” Smith said.

While Miami-Dade can’t give extra points in a bidding contest for minority-owned firms, Levine Cava said her administration is trying to boost local Black-owned firms with a new “values-based” procurement strategy. Efforts include breaking up large contracts into smaller ones up for direct competition to give more firms a chance to compete, and using county staff to encourage more companies to pursue Miami-Dade business.

“We’re doing everything we can,” Levine Cava said.

Oliver Gross, who is the president of New Urban Development, a real estate business affiliated with the Urban League of Greater Miami, is a lifelong Miami resident and said he was disturbed to see that Black businesses’ share of Miami government contracts has essentially not grown more than the 1% to 2% it was in 1980.

“I want to make sure my grandchildren have an opportunity to succeed here,” he said. “Without this, they will have a higher hill to climb than other folks.”

In a recent meeting, Gross noticed how disenchanted a room full of seasoned and experienced Black professionals and business people were with the current lack of support for Black business in Miami. He said that despite the amount of degrees and prestige they had attained, there was still a lack of resources for their businesses from Miami-Dade officials.

If the county responds to requests made in the call to action, Gross said progress can be made in closing Miami’s racial wealth gap. He sees support for Black Miami businesses as a key that can unlock doors for others.

“I think what’s good for one segment ends up being good for the community overall,” he said.