The Metropolitan Transit Authority’s Chief Diversity Officer Michael Garner received the Minority- Women-owned Business Enterprise (MWBE) Champion Award in December from Gov. Kathy Hochul. He was celebrated for making the MTA No. 1 out of 97 state agencies when it comes to money paid to MWBEs.
The MTA paid over $900 million to MWBEs in 2021. Combined, the 96 state agencies paid $3 billion to New York State certified MWBEs last year. The MTA accounted for one-third of all dollars paid to MWBE firms with 40% being paid to Black- and Hispanic-owned companies.
“When we talk about the disparity within the disparity, sometimes Black businesses and Hispanic businesses get left out of the equation,” Garner said during an interview. “We’re going out of our way to recruit Black- and Hispanic-owned businesses and integrate them into our business processes.”
Last year, the MTA celebrated 10 years of its Small Business Development Program, which has provided MWBEs with mentoring and capacity building opportunities. The program has awarded 455 contracts amounting to $480 million with more than 11,520 jobs created or maintained.
The program is organized into two integrated parts: Construction Management Mentoring Services and Business Development Technical Assistance. The program works closely with each mentoring contractor through four-year Tier 1 and four-year Tier 2 state and locally funded MTA projects. Once the training is completed, contractors graduate into the MTA Small Business Federal Program, a three-year program that was approved in 2012 enabling participating contractors to bid on and win larger projects and grow their businesses.
Garner attributes the MTA’s outcomes for making sure MWBEs get their fair share to effective leadership and holding his staff accountable.
“My staff and I are changed with coming up with solutions and strategies that are going to allow us to award a record number of contracts and minority well known firms each year,” he said. “We are successful because we are not blinded by problems [and] we focus on solutions.”
The MTA received $10.3 billion from President Joe Biden’s infrastructure plan, the Build Back Better Act. U.S. Sen Charles Schumer gave the agency an extra $6 billion. Garner said that getting the nation’s infrastructure should also mean being inclusive.
“When you hear President Biden talk about “build it back better,” we’ve got to build back inclusively and that’s inclusive of Black- and Hispanic- and other minority-owned businesses,” he said.
Within the infrastructure plan, Garner said there is a disadvantaged business enterprise (DBE) focus. DBE are defined as for-profit small businesses where socially and economically disadvantaged individuals own at least a 51% interest and also control management and daily business operations. The MTA has a goal of awarding 20% of contracts to DBEs.
“We are going out of our way to debundle larger projects and we are going out and recruiting minority-owned firms to pitch to us as prime contractors and prime consultants,” Garner said. “Those firms can be in control of their own destiny, as opposed to working as a subcontractor. We will afford you the opportunity to work as a prime contractor.”
As for what’s ahead for the MTA, Garner said the agency has a record $54.8 billion capital plan over the next five years which will be spent on contracts. Some of the contracts with vast opportunities include the Second Avenue subway, which is a $6 billion project, and the Penn Station Access plan, which is building four new Metro-North stations in the Bronx for fast access to Penn Station.
“We are looking for certified minority-owned companies, not only in construction, but also in information technology, legal services, vendors and suppliers and architects and engineering,” Garner said.
Certified MWBEs interested in working with the MTA can reach out to Garner directly by emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org.