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Birmingham releases VITAL report on $24M spending with minority businesses

Mayor Randall Woodfin recently released the city's first-ever spending report with minority- and women-owned businesses.
By Erica Wright
The Birmingham Times

Between July 1, 2019 and June 30, 2020, the City of Birmingham spent more than $24 million with minority-owned and women-owned businesses, according to data compiled by the city. 

On Friday, Mayor Randall Woodfin released the city’s first-ever VITAL (Valuing Inclusion to Accelerate and Lift) report of spending with minority and women-owned firms.

“VITAL was intentionally created [in 2019] because when you have a city that is 75 percent Black and you have a city that is intentional about inclusive growth and that has an Office of Innovation and Economic Opportunity (IEO) . . . the first place you should start is transparency in what you’re doing,” said Woodfin. “The second place is what is . . . corporate Birmingham [doing]. One of our core values is transparency so let’s start with a baseline of where everybody is. The City of Birmingham is willing to share where we are spending and show our report card.”

The key findings of the city’s spending report includes: 

  • Total diverse spend: $24,269,820 (1,267 businesses)
  • Total women-owned business spend: $9,400,523 (472 businesses)
  • Total minority-owned business spend: $9,054,098 (436 businesses) 
  • Total minority-owned and women-owned business spend: $5,788,487 (456 business) 

The city’s Office of Business Diversity and Opportunity, which was created to support the small business community, worked with city departments and agencies for almost a year to pull data to show where the city spends its dollars and where opportunities exist. 

“We are on the path to creating more opportunities and the first way to do that is to produce a spend report which helps us to understand how we spend our dollars so that we can then create policies and procedures for a more concerted effort for our minority and women owned businesses in Birmingham,” said Coreata’ Houser, deputy director of IEO. 

Those procedures include making sure city services are open, people understand the vendor registration form and businesses understand how important that information is to the city. 

Based on the research, the mayor said the city plans to:

  • Improve the vendor registration process and encourage minority- and women-owned businesses to register.
  • Create a database of minority-owned, women-owned and other disadvantaged businesses that can help the city as well as other agencies, companies and institutions diversify vendors.
  • Establish more consistency in procurement practices among city departments and agencies.
  • Proactively seek local minority- and women-owned businesses to provide needed goods and services. 
  • Continue to offer and support programs that encourage entrepreneurship and strengthen small businesses.
  • Publish an annual Opportunity Guide that forecasts the city’s anticipated purchases so that all vendors are aware of potential opportunities. 

“We have to be extremely aggressive and intentional about our messaging and the importance of capturing that data so we know where the holes or potential gaps may be,” said Cornell Wesley, the recently appointed director of IEO. “This administration wants to continue to champion small business and minority ownership and we want to be able to support those efforts at the city level.” 

The report, coupled with increased data collection and a city-led disparity study due later this year, will provide the framework for future actions, said Wesley. 

“We recognize there is an opportunity for [us] to be more aggressive and more communicative to the public, not just from a participation standpoint but also from a registration standpoint. There is a myriad of reasons why people don’t include the appropriate data…we want to break down those barriers and say this is a great opportunity for us to be intentional in our efforts and target our small business community,” he said. 

Woodfin said the data serves as a baseline. “We can only improve from here because once we share where we are, once we communicate where we are, we tell people where we want to go and then you do everything intentionally designed to get there. You can’t be afraid of those low numbers because prior to this, we didn’t know where the numbers were but now that we know, it is clear what we must do to be better and get better and own what you say and where you want to be.” 

The mayor said he is also encouraging other companies to join the city in publishing a performance report on spending with women and minority businesses. 

For more information visit www.birminghamal.gov/vital