GRAND RAPIDS — The city of Grand Rapids is developing an inclusion program meant to encourage the contracting of minority-owned, women-owned and micro-local businesses in projects involving public investment through tax incentives.
The initiative was discussed at the city’s Economic Development Project Team’s Sept. 15 meeting. Officials hope to launch the program in the first quarter of 2021, said Jeremiah Gracia, the city’s economic development director. The initiative is laid out in the city’s equitable economic development strategic plan and is being worked on in collaboration with the Office of Equity and Engagement.
The program would require developers seeking tax incentives from the city to complete an inclusion scorecard that includes setting aspirational goals for the percentage of minority-owned, women-owned and micro-local businesses they aim to use, along with a list of contractors that would be solicited.
“If you’re not presented with the opportunity, it’s not there for you,” said Jonathan Klooster, an economic development coordinator for the city. “We’re trying to increase the outreach for these projects so more companies that are targeted under this program have the opportunity to bid on these projects.”
Though the city will evaluate developers’ goals to create a more diverse base of contractors for projects, Klooster said the city can’t set a target for developers to meet for legal reasons — and every project is different.
“Simply asking those questions means that’s something we’re prioritizing, which would encourage developers to share that information,” said Alvin Hills IV, business developer in the city’s Office of Equity and Engagement, which will help review the program. Hills said his office will also serve as a resource for developers through the inclusion plan process. The inclusion program is subject to city commission approval before it launches.
“I’m glad this inclusion plan has come together. I think it’s long overdue and will help enhance our city and business community as well,” Commissioner Nathaniel Moody said during the economic development meeting.
The program is a step forward in allowing all players to become active in the construction industry, said Isaac Norris, principal, architect and owner of Isaac V. Norris & Associates P.C.
“It’s very much needed because the majority-owned firms have always gotten the opportunity to do this work, but we as minority-operated firms should have inclusion,” Norris said. “There are most definitely disparities. The problem with the whole system in Grand Rapids is it just takes time. It also takes some people who are in your corner to give you a helping hand.”
The construction industry also tends to grow through generations passing on talent, and most minority-owned firms are newer startups, Norris said.
“I’m excited about this program because it allows smaller startup minority-owned companies to be a part of the process of growth and development,” Norris said.
As a Latina-Hispanic woman, Santa Matias said it can be hard at times to build trust with developers and builders on projects as the owner of a startup company. Matias founded Wyoming-based United Freedom Painting two years ago.
The company mostly specializes in interior painting for residential homeowners, and does a small amount of commercial work as well, Matias said.
“It’s something I want to pursue, and I want to be an example for other women that are Hispanic and might be afraid or don’t know where to start with all the boundaries,” Matias said. “It shouldn’t matter what your background is to go into this business.”