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Black Economic Council scores a win as state steps up efforts to diversify contractors

Segun Idowu, executive director of the Black Economic Council of Massachusetts.Black Economic Council of Massachusetts

The Black Economic Council of Massachusetts first urged the Baker administration in January to reshape how it doled out state contracts, to little apparent effect.

The business group made its request again in September, following another piece by the public broadcaster GBH on shortcomings with diversity in the state’s contracting efforts.

This time, Governor Charlie Baker responded quickly. In less than two months, his administration and finance office had set in motion a series of changes that became public last week to open more doors to businesses owned by people of color.

The pace of action — quick by state government standards — underscores BECMA’s rising prominence at the State House. And it highlights the increasing urgency among government leaders to use the leverage they have to address persistent racial inequities in the state’s economy.


Among other things, Baker wants to make the state’s supplier diversity office into its own agency, within his administration and finance secretariat, as opposed to a program within the operational services division. This would give the supplier diversity office, run by deputy assistant secretary Bill McAvoy, more authority and autonomy.

The administration filed a bill last week to elevate the diversity office within the state bureaucracy; McAvoy said the bill automatically becomes law within two months unless it’s disapproved by a majority vote of either the House or Senate. The Baker administration also plans to ask the Legislature for a bigger budget, to add to the office’s nine-person staff.

Another big change that BECMA had sought: adopting the “Massport model” for major state contracts.

That’s a reference to the land-disposition process at the Massachusetts Port Authority, in which the diversity of a bidding team counts for 25 percent of the bid’s scoring. Starting next July, according to McAvoy, diversity will count for 25 percent in the evaluations of bids for state goods and services above the $250,000 threshold, compared to 10 percent today.


McAvoy downplayed BECMA’s role, saying the administration considered input from several other advocacy groups, as well, in crafting the changes.

But BECMA’s executive director, Segun Idowu, is willing to count this one as a victory — for now.

“We’re happy the governor did essentially everything we asked for,” Idowu said. “At the end of the day, what we want to see is the results. . . . Implementing these things doesn’t mean everything is solved.”

Idowu began this push in January after GBH reported that state spending with Black-owned businesses had declined 24 percent, in inflation-adjusted dollars, over 20 years. a 20-year period.

In the 2019 fiscal year, the state administration spent $412 million in discretionary expenses with businesses owned by people of color, a 4 percent decline from the previous year. The 2019 spending level was just over 8 percent of total state discretionary spending, the state’s target for that year.

The pandemic and the Black Lives Matter protests have prompted many city and state leaders to rethink what they should do to increase the diversity of bidders for public jobs, or at least to redouble previous efforts.

“It’s all part of this renewed reckoning around racial inequities,” said Joe Kriesberg, chief executive of the Massachusetts Association of Community Development Corporations. “The Massport model gives credibility to the idea this can be done in a different way. . . . Everybody is examining their purchasing and procurement policies to make sure they’re not inequitable.”


Glynn Lloyd, executive director of the Foundation for Business Equity, praised the steps that Baker and other officials are taking.

“Not only is it the buying power of the state and the city and municipalities, they can also set an example for the private sector,” Lloyd said. “You can’t be pushing people to do something if you’re not doing it yourself.”

Idowu said that BECMA would like to see the City of Boston adopt the Massport model, as well. It’s already happening with land disposition, at least; the Boston Planning & Development Agency recently announced that diversity would account for 25 percent of scores when evaluating bids for city-owned properties.

Mayor Martin J. Walsh discussed his administration’s efforts during a virtual event on Tuesday, held by the Builders of Color Coalition. In August, the BPDA decided to redo the sales of three parcels after determining the bidding teams weren’t diverse enough.

“We have to be more intentional about how we create wealth and opportunities for those who have historically been left out,” Walsh told the audience. “It’s not just about building buildings in Roxbury. It’s about building wealth in Roxbury.”

Jon Chesto can be reached at Follow him @jonchesto.