The 2022-2023 Guilford County fiscal budget is in the books and the Democratic-led Board of Commissioners got much of what they had been asking for – more social programs, more money for schools, more money for community non-profits, higher pay and more benefits for county employees.

However, there’s still at least one goal that remains elusive, and one that, this week, Chairman of the Board of Commissioners Skip Alston said will be a focus in the coming months.  That’s the county’s longstanding effort to give more business to minority- and women-owned business enterprises (MWBE) – especially to minority businesses, since, Alston said, that’s one place the county has been egregiously lacking in the past.

The county authorized about $300,000 for a disparity study to look at county contracts and other business where and the results of that study, Alston said, will provide the county with a lot of the information it needs to remedy the problem.

When the Board of Commissioners met in High Point earlier this year the issue was a sore spot for county staff again when the board heard a report and Alston and other commissioners were dismayed about the continued low percentage of county business that goes to minority firms.

The county does a little better when it comes to using women-owned firms.

One problem is that the county commissioners are bound by state law in many cases of offering county contracts. That means they must select the firm with the lowest bid as long as that firm is capable of doing a good job.  But Alston said there are plenty of strategies the county can use to increase the use of minority-owned businesses and the study results will be a roadmap for a strategic attack of the problem.

“We should have the results in September and that will tell us where our problem areas are,” Alston said.

He said there are strategies the board can use to increase the number and size of county contracts that are awarded to minority firms.

“On larger contracts, we can set a benchmark for the use of minority contractors,” the chairman said.

That’s a way of encouraging large firms to incorporate minority firms as sub-contractors in a major county project.

Alston also said county staff can do more to seek to encourage minority businesses to bid on county projects and the county can make additional efforts to seek out minority architects and many other professions where the county has a poor record of using minorities over the years.