CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Councilmember LaWana Mayfield spoke to nearly 40 LGBT community members on Tuesday about the city’s new minority, women and small business enterprise program. The city, she said, wants to reach out and diversify its utilization of small businesses.
“We’re going to be introducing a new program… that is really looking at how we are going to move forward in diversifying our minority and small businesses and how we can really outreach,” Mayfield told members of the Charlotte Business Guild, an LGBT business owners and professionals group which held their June meeting at McColl Center for the Visual Arts.
The new business program, Charlotte Business Inclusion, was approved by City Council earlier this year. It is designed to make it easier for minority businesses to bid on city contracts and came in response to continued disparities in business contracting. According to The Charlotte Business Journal, a 2011 study showed that between 2005 and 2010 just 17.5 percent of city contracts went to companies owned by women or racial minorities, though those groups accounted for about 34 percent of available companies in the area. In subcontracting, about 29 percent of contracts were given to minority- and women-owned firms, though they account for 40 percent of available companies.
The Charlotte Business Inclusion program is set to launch on July 1. You can learn more about small business services and other city business plans at the Council’s economic development page. To learn if you might qualify for participation in the Charlotte Business Inclusion program, click here to complete this short form.
Mayfield, a Democrat who represents District 3, serves on the city’s economic development committee. She is also the city’s first and only openly LGBT elected official.
Mayfield was careful to note that minority status does not yet include LGBT-owned businesses. Federal and state definitions and regulations, she said, do not currently include LGBT-owned firms. Still, she said she is working to ensure the city is aware of LGBT-owned businesses and said Tuesday’s speaking engagement at the Charlotte Business Guild was an opportunity to reach out.
“As a city, we haven’t done a great job of really reaching out to the LGBT community,” Mayfield told the audience. “A lot of that is because we haven’t known what businesses are out there and what opportunities may be available.”
“This will start a dialogue,” she added.
The city’s outreach is important for keeping young entrepreneurs in Charlotte.
“We have this amazing, diverse population,” Mayfield said. “We are trying to figure out what we should do as a city to keep you here, to keep this talent here, opposed to you going off to New York or Atlanta or D.C. or one of these other areas. How do we keep all this creativity here in Charlotte?”
The city’s outreach, Mayfield said, must include LGBT young adults at colleges and universities, as well as up-and-coming LGBT youth in high schools. Partnerships with groups like Campus Pride and Time Out Youth are important, she said.
“When we’re reaching out to colleges and universities and reaching out to young adults, is there also going to be a place where in that conversation, it’s just automatic that we’re reaching out to the [gay-straight alliances] and the LGBT groups and making sure we’re really all encompassing,” Mayfield said. “We have the mayor’s youth employment program. Are we reaching out to Time Out Youth and identifying our students who are at different schools throughout the [Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools] system to be better prepared so that high school students and junior high school students when they are going to college they know that our city is not only welcoming but we are waiting to hear what types of ideas you are going to bring for the new businesses you are going to create or grow in the city?”
Ordinance changes afoot
After the meeting, Mayfield told qnotes that potential changes to the city’s Commercial Non-Discrimination Ordinance could be forthcoming. The ordinance requires businesses seeking contracts from the city to certify their employment non-discrimination policies match the city’s.
“Nothing has been brought to Council that I know of,” Mayfield told the newspaper.
Mayfield said the Mecklenburg LGBT Political Action Committee (MeckPAC) may be working on the issue.
“Our current city manager, Ron Carlee, will be open to hearing anything,” she said. “At the meeting he attended at the LGBT Community Center [on May 23], [MeckPAC Chair] Scott Bishop did mention that MeckPAC will bring some initiatives to the Council, so that should be one of the ones that will be coming forward.”
Though former City Manager Curt Walton amended his human resources policies to protect LGBT city workers, the ordinance was never changed by Council to conform to the new standards and currently excludes protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. As a result, at least $1.1 million in city funding was given to contractors and businesses without full LGBT employee protections during the city’s hosting of the 2012 Democratic National Convention.
“We’ve just got to make sure we go through the proper steps,” Mayfield said. “Have the conversation with my colleagues, build the consensus like we do with all votes to make sure the support is there and that the city of Charlotte is truly a welcoming city where we respect all of our citizens.”
Changing the ordinance will require a dais vote of City Council. The last time Council voted on a stand-alone LGBT-inclusion measure was its consideration of a public accommodations amendment in November 1992. That measure was voted down.
Mayfield’s comments on Tuesday were her first on-the-record statements with qnotes since last fall’s Louis Farrakhan controversy.
The City of Charlotte does not need a federal law to encourage LGBT owned businesses to be part of the diversity and minority outreach to build small businesses in Charlotte. It is great to hear this topic is finally being discussed but we are far behind as a city in this regard. City of Charlotte could launch a website tomorrow for LGBT owned businesses to register and then share that city-wide along with their ethnic minority and women owned businesses. Less talk, more action.
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