Chairman of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners Alan Branson said this week that Guilford County commissioners should stop attempting to micromanage companies when those companies come to the county for incentives or when they bid on construction contracts or other contracts.
Frequently, companies that come to Guilford County government asking for incentives packages or seeking county contracts get hit with a barrage of questions from some commissioners about very specific matters – such as the percentage of African-Americans in upper management or the percentage being employed as subcontractors.
Commissioners Skip Alston and Carolyn Coleman, in particular, usually have a great many questions for the companies regarding the percentage of black employees, the percentage in upper management positions, their pay scale and more.
Branson said he thinks this hurts the county by making those companies less likely to come to Guilford County or, in the case of contracts, less likely to seek business with the county.
“Right now, it is not creating a friendly environment for the county from an economic development perspective,” Branson said.
He also said the incessant barrage of questions to company executives about the exact makeup of its workforce is making Guilford County less attractive to those businesses.
“I think, in my mind, it’s poor taste when you’ve got a Fortune 500 company and you’re grilling them on who they are hiring,” the chairman said. “To me, that’s getting into the weeds.”
He added that the executives who run those companies want to operate in the way they see fit rather than be micromanaged by local elected leaders.
The Board of Commissioners has experienced a lot of tension in recent months over the question of whether Guilford County government goes far enough to make sure black contractors are included in county projects. In one case, the board awarded a $12-million construction contract to a Winston-Salem firm that had no black participation in its bid proposal. The interesting thing about that project is that the company had nearly 25 percent of the work going to minority- and women-owned business enterprises (MWBE); however, that was all women- and Hispanic-owned firms. There were no black-owned firms in the mix – a fact that got Alston and other black commissioners very irritated.
Guilford County Commissioner Alan Perdue pointed out during the discussions at that time that the firm had actually exceeded both the county’s and the state’s goals for MWBE participation, and he questioned whether the county should try to get more detailed than the state does as to the particular makeup of minority participation.
There are other questions as well. If the county is going to look beyond “minority” and into the percentage of blacks in particular, should the board also be concerned as to the specific number of Hispanic-owned firms partaking in a contract? Should it be concerned as well with the particular number of Hispanic employees in upper management, or, say, the number Pacific Islanders – when the state and other local governments don’t get that specific.
“It’s not ‘minority’ anymore,” Branson said. “It’s how many black females do you have, and how many of this group do you have, and it’s, ‘If you don’t meet the numbers, I’m voting against this.’ Elected officials should not be telling companies how to run their businesses.”
Branson said that, when it comes to handing out economic incentives, he does understand how someone could argue that the county should be able to set certain parameters for giving out those benefits – but he added that it simply isn’t business-friendly for commissioners or other elected leaders to make highly specific distinctions about business practices in this aggressive way.