Maria Torres-Springer (204905)
Credit: Twitter

Every year, the city of New York spends billions of dollars on construction projects around the five boroughs. These projects are investments in our communities: things such as affordable housing, parks or new schools. But they also serve as an opportunity to make investments in the people who build them.

When I started as president of the New York City Economic Development Corporation last summer, I had one major goal: making sure that government is not just creating buildings or programs, but that we are investing in opportunities for people in every part of the city. One of the biggest ways we’re working to meet that goal is by investing in minority-and women-owned business enterprises.

Through the first half of the 20th century, government contracts to the private sector essentially created our country’s postwar industrial base that brought a generation of Americans into the middle class. Public procurement not only built much of New York’s vital infrastructure but also helped to establish many of the nation’s strongest companies, many of which remain reliable sources of expertise and services to the public sector today. This history shows us that public procurement is an important way for emerging developers to grow their companies.

Today, it’s our goal to make sure that the builders, carpenters, electricians and plumbers who build New York City’s future represent and look like the people who make up New York City.

That’s why Mayor de Blasio has initiated a major reformation of the city’s MWBE contracting policy, including a goal of awarding $16 billion in MWBE contracts within a decade. These reforms will touch on a variety of sectors, including two that apply directly to us at NYCEDC: real estate and construction.

For many small companies, it can be a challenge to cover the predevelopment expenses of city projects, such as architectural expenses, site control or scaffolding. That’s why we launched a $10 million fund to help emerging developers cover the upfront costs required for development projects. Other NYCEDC programs provide assistance on how to learn about and apply for city projects, how to structure your budget and manage your finances and more. We even set up a way for companies to prequalify for city contracting, so that we can come to them when relevant opportunities arise.

Although there’s much more work to do, our efforts have already demonstrated results for real New Yorkers.

Take, for example, Metro City Group, a Queens-based plumbing company that grew rapidly after participating in our MWBE programs. The company’s owner, Carlos Jaramillo, started out repairing small-scale residential and commercial properties, and was looking to expand. He took part in our Money Matters and Blueprint to Success programs, and went on to receive a small loan from us to enhance Metro City’s capacity. After that, he got a $700,000 contract to do the plumbing work on the Whitestone Bridge. After getting fast-track MWBE certification with NYCEDC and receiving a Kick-Start mobilization loan, Carlos signed a $2.3 million contract that has now been expanded into a $7.6 million project to be prime contractor on the Second Avenue Subway project. He grew his team from one to three people, and now has 20 employees working to bring the Second Avenue Subway online as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, a number of major recent NYCEDC projects—the upgrading of the iconic Flatbush Caton Market and the redevelopment of the Civic Center site at 108 Leonard St., among others—have all been awarded to minority or women-owned developers who have the successful track records to deliver these projects for the community.

Small businesses are the heart of our city. They bolster our economy by employing people from the communities where they’re located, by delivering vital goods and services and by keeping our neighborhoods lively and diverse. Nurturing emerging developers increases the number of firms that are able to compete for city contracts, and when we have a more competitive market with more capable firms, costs to the public sector are lower.

In the months ahead, we’ll be doing much more to develop the next generation of minority-and women-owned businesses in our city. To start, I urge small businesses to look to the city for partnership. Sign up for our vendor, contracting or RFP lists for opportunities you’d like to get involved in. From affordable office spaces, to financing and recruitment services, support programs and, of course, contracts on city development work, always remember that we work for you. And we are committed to making sure that every dollar we spend is an investment in opportunity.