Atlanta

Businessmen pleased with state report intended to help minority and other small businesses

ATLANTA — Two local businessmen say they’re encouraged by state plans intended to make it easier for small companies owned by women, minorities and veterans to compete for billions of dollars in state business.

Channel 2 Investigative Reporter Richard Belcher spoke with Yusuf Ali and his son, Omar Ali, after they read the 85-page report prepared by Georgia’s purchasing agency, the Department of Administrative Services (DOAS).

“I’m optimistic, very optimistic. This is the first time the state has even attempted to implement such a program,” Yusuf Ali told Channel 2.

We met the two at an old Baptist church in the Lakewood Heights neighborhood in southeast Atlanta. Omar Ali has reworked the church into an office and retail space fully occupied by Black-owned businesses. Father and son contend the Black community has to find ways to start more small businesses.

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“The most important hindrance of progress in the black community is economic,” says Yusuf. “Economics, entrepreneurship, is vital to our growth. everything else is a symptom,” says Omar.

Two weeks ago, DOAS completed the study ordered by Gov. Kemp in July. It includes recommended changes to help small businesses owned by women, veterans and minorities get a bigger bite of the roughly $6 billion dollars the state spends annually on everything from road construction to GSP vehicles. Right now, the state says it is unable to say with any accuracy how much of that business goes to minority-owned companies.

Channel 2 reported earlier that GDOT spent about $1.6 billion last year, with 5.5% going to what the department calls disadvantaged business enterprises. GDOT has a breakdown because the federal government requires it.

DOAS tracks about $1.2 billion in statewide contracts, of which, the department says, about 7.7% went to minority-owned firms last year and another 7% to companies owned by women. That leaves about $3.3 billion spent through various state agencies for which there is no tracking. The state says that will change. Omar Ali says he’s not disappointed at the absence of a specific breakdown in the report.

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“We know that minorities are already doing less than 2%, so we didn’t need a study to tell us. We were more pleased to see what is the outcome to try to resolve the issues that are at hand,” he told Channel 2.

Both men praised specific recommendations in the report.

One encourages state agencies to break up bid packages into smaller components to make it easier for smaller companies to compete. Another would remove the requirement that those smaller companies get a bond or insurance guaranteeing that they complete the work.

“If bonding is removed, small businesses have a better opportunity and a better chance at executing on that work. More importantly, they have a better chance at getting the work,” Omar Ali told us. He added that the state could move against a small company that failed to complete a project by refusing to pay the company.

Do the businessmen want to do away with competitive bidding which is required by Georgia law?

The elder Ali says that is not the goal, but he likes the idea of setting up bidding among minority firms competing for smaller contracts.

Omar Ali calls the package “a humongous step in the right direction which we haven’t had from any past governor -- Republican or Democrat. That’s the effort that Governor Kemp has taken right now.”

The governor’s office did not provide a statement for our story.

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