Guilford County government for years has had a dismal record when it comes to employing minority firms for county construction contracts and other contracts for various needed goods and services.

But that’s clearly going to change in a big way in 2023.

It’s obvious, just from the conversations that county officials have had since the ball dropped over Times Square, that the county is making a major commitment to addressing the issue – even if that comes at a large cost and means delays on some projects.

Guilford County MWBE Program Director Shaunne Thomas told the Board of Commissioners in a recent work session that the county is now looking to other parts of North Carolina and to other states to increase MWBE participation.

“One thing we’re looking at doing is trying to attract other MBE firms in other states to come to Greensboro, because we have, not just this work, but more work coming in the future,” Thomas told the commissioners. “So, we’re not taking ‘We don’t have any’ as an answer – we’re taking the answer to be, ‘We’re going to go get them.’”

The county is still limited by North Carolina law, which requires projects to go to the lowest bidder, but the county also plans to employee other strategies like establishing a program that helps minority companies meet bonding requirements and by breaking up bid offers in ways that will be more enticing to minority firms, which then to be smaller than other firms.

Vice Chair of the Board of  Commissioners Carlvena Foster asked county staff if seeking minority firms from far-away places would have any impact on the timeline for projects such as the new Sheriff’s Department headquarters that the county is now building.

Guilford County Facilities and Property Management Director Eric Hilton answered, “It could,” and then he added, “We’re trying our best to keep the end date firm.”

Hilton said that, in a worst-case scenario, the effort would likely add a few weeks to project timelines.

Earlier in the work session, Hilton had explained to the commissioners that – due to the current extremely high demand for construction crews, and the desires of local governments and other entities to meet MWBE goals ­– it is currently very difficult to find and hire minority firms to the extent Guilford County would like to.

Technically, the county is trying to address its MWBE problem – not employing enough women- and minority-owned business enterprises in county endeavors.  However, in reality, the current conversation is all about MBE – getting minority businesses to participate.

In the past, one thing that’s irked the commissioners is hearing a report that MWBE participation was relatively high for a project – only to look closely and find that all of the MWBE participation was from W’s, not M’s.

The commissioners recently received the results of a disparity study and one recommendation from that study was to break the stats down into women-owned businesses and other for clarity.

The county commissioners have already decided to follow one recommendation from that study: hire more workers to up MWBE participation.

At the board’s first meeting of the year on Thursday, Jan. 5, the commissioners took the unprecedented step of adding five new county positions at a cost of $630,000 a year solely for the purpose of increasing Guilford County’s MWBE numbers.

That comes on the heels of the county paying $290,000 for the disparity study on the MWBE situation.  The county is also purchasing new computer software that better tracks minority participation in county contracts.