Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis on Wednesday applauded the Port of Houston Authority’s decision to conduct a disparity study of its procurement practices to ensure that the agency is equitably contracting with minority- and women-owned businesses.
A disparity study is a critical step in establishing a minority- and women-owned business enterprise (MWBE) program. It compares the availability of minority- and women-owned businesses in the sectors where government contracts and procures with the level of participation of those businesses in the government’s contracting and procurement processes. When disparities exist, a gender- or race-conscious approach is appropriate and allowable.
“I applaud the Port of Houston Authority on approving a disparity study,” Commissioner Ellis said. “This is an important first step in ensuring that all businesses have an equal opportunity to contract with the Port of Houston. Harris County is among the most diverse communities in the country. For our entire economy to thrive, contracting opportunities with government entities, including the Port of Houston, should reflect that diversity.”
Disparity studies and MWBE programs are powerful economic development tools that can help remove roadblocks to inclusion, strengthen and diversify our region’s economy, and help create wealth and jobs where they are needed the most.
Recognizing the economic and social benefits of such programs, Commissioner Ellis last year led the effort to initiate a disparity study for Harris County Commissioners Court. That study is currently underway and should be completed later this year. Ellis also joined advocates in successfully urging METRO and the Port of Houston to conduct similar disparity studies. To build on its successful small business program, METRO began its disparity study last year.
Despite Harris County’s rapidly shifting demographics and the tremendous growth of businesses owned by women and minorities, Harris County is still challenged by structural inequalities and wealth disparity that especially impact minorities and women in the business world and beyond. Many minority and women business owners encounter roadblocks that undermine fair competition and hold back their full economic potential. These roadblocks can include: outright discrimination; reduced access to capital, loans and lines of credit; relatively limited social and professional networks; and other well-documented barriers that a disparity study will help address.
Successful MWBE programs also can help create jobs and other economic and social benefits in minority communities that will help address the broader issue of wealth and income inequality, which remains an ongoing threat to our region’s long-term prosperity. A 2016 study of Harris County by Rice University’s Kinder Institute found that although the region has experienced tremendous economic growth, the benefits of that growth have not been distributed across all communities. From 1980-2010, the study shows, Harris County’s percentage of high poverty census tracts more than quadrupled to 39 percent—nearly double the national rate of 20 percent, making our region one of the most economically segregated areas in the country.
The growing economic segregation, wealth disparity and income inequality disproportionately impact Black and Latino communities and women.
Commissioner Ellis added, “Although minorities and women make up a significant portion of our local economy as small business owners and entrepreneurs, they often face barriers that undermine their long-term ability to thrive and compete in the 21st century economy. It is imperative that all people have a fair chance to contribute and succeed.”
Commissioner Ellis’ work on MWBE contracting programs goes back more than 30 years. As a member of the Houston City Council and then as a state senator, Commissioner Ellis helped initiate MWBE programs at the city and state level to ensure that public agencies and governments have fair and equitable contracting opportunity for disadvantaged businesses.