One of the selling points of the bullet train was that the California High Speed Rail Project would result in contracts and jobs desperately needed throughout the state. African-Americans praised the Project’s potential economic impact as their unemployment is twice the state average and in some cities almost triple.
After officially filing a complaint with the Federal Rail Administration that resulted in the Rail Authority being required to set disadvantaged business enterprise (ethnic minorities and women) contract goals, many thought this would heighten opportunities for African-Americans. Not so according to three reports filed by the Rail Authority to the Federal Rail Administration. Just under $38 million via five (5) contracts were awarded to African-American firms between 2012-2014. During that same period, the Rail Authority awarded over $1.13 billion through 106 contracts.
While African-American business organizations like the California Black Chamber and the Fresno Metro Black Chamber to the San Joaquin Valley Minority Contractors Association and the Kern County Black Contractors Association has supported the Project, none of these organizations have been contracted with to assist with outreach or contractor readiness.
This level of disconnect from the African-American business community is unacceptable. With more than 3,000 Black contractors across the state and thousands of professional service firms, the Rail Authority and its contractors could more much than find five.
Here are some recommendations for increasing African-American contracting outcomes:
- Race-conscious contracting goals. Given the disparity in contract amongst African-Americans (Native Americans too), the Authority should consider targeted DBE goals to increase contract outcomes.
- Increase outreach with trusted partners to the African-American community. The current contract outcomes are an indication of the success of outreach activities. Currently, no African-American business organization has a contract to provide outreach or technical assistance.
- Ensure contractors are providing supportive services to African-American firms as outlined in the Small Business Program. Activities like umbrella or contract bond and bridge loans programs make the Project accessible for small and minority firms.
- Utilize African-American targeting and owned media outlets to engage potential bidders and job applicants. When is the last time you have seen a high speed rail advertisement or announcement in an African-American newspaper?
- Encourage large subcontractors (Tier 2) to subcontract with minority firms (Tier 3 or 4).
As part of the taxpayer base that voted for Prop. 1A and supports the Project, the CA High Speed Rail Authority and its contractors have a lot ground to make up in the African-American community.
Organizations like the California Black Chamber and the Fresno Metro Black Chamber stand ready to support and encourage the Authority and its contractors to connect with our businesses.