Clayton County reaching out to black businesses

By Ed Brock

Clayton County needs more minority-owned businesses to put in bids for county projects.

That's the message that Clayton County Board of Commissioners members Virginia Gray and Charlie Griswell said they wanted to get out during Tuesday night's commission meeting.

Griswell brought up the topic after hearing from Peggy Davidson, director of central services, regarding bids from five companies on a traffic and pedestrian access study for 10 Clayton County schools.

The study will be paid for with money from the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax passed in the county last year. None of the contractors considered for the job, including Day Wilburn Associates Inc., which was awarded the contract for $199,433, were minority-owned.

"I just don't think it's fair," Griswell said.

Griswell and Gray said that when the SPLOST committee was trying to drum up support for the SPLOST, the committee told the black community that the county would be using more black-owned businesses in major construction projects. Gray said that since a majority of the county's population is black, blacks are paying most of the SPLOST money, and that it is fair that black businesses should get a share of the money.

However, so far that hasn't happened.

"Somewhere it's got to stop," Gray said. "We have to be really aggressive in giving minority-owned businesses, in giving black-owned businesses, work in all these projects."

But commission Chairman Crandle Bray said no black businesses entered bids for the traffic and pedestrian access study project.

"We went out of our way to get minority bids on this contract," Bray said. "If they don't come forward there's nothing we can do."

Gray said that many black-owned businesses don't apply because the county once had a stigma that it would not use minority-owned businesses. That stigma is untrue, Gray said, but the county has to let the people know that.

"We need to let these people know that we want them here," Gray said. "We are aggressively seeking minority-owned businesses, especially black-owned businesses."

Bray said the county is also encouraging the contractors that are awarded the contracts to use black-owned subcontractors. Davidson said she has been working with the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition organization in Atlanta about encouraging black-owned businesses to bid on county projects.

One problem is that black-owned businesses get caught in a negative cycle, said Dexter Matthews, president of the Clayton County Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Because the black-owned businesses aren't given the major contracts, they can't invest in the kind of equipment and infrastructure that would then better qualify them to win the bids.

Matthews also thinks the commission could do more to give contracts to black-owned businesses.

"If they want to do it they can do it," Matthews said.