On June 7, 2017, Essex County Freeholder President Britnee N. Timberlake, together with Freeholders Lebby C. Jones and Rufus I. Johnson, introduced a law establishing a set-aside and joint venture program to increase economic opportunity for women-owned businesses, minority-owned businesses, and veteran-owned businesses. The law is expected to pass unanimously at the Freeholder Board meeting on July 19, 2017, and has the support of the County Executive. 

A review of the County’s 2014, 2015, and 2016 reports from the Office of Small Business Development and Affirmative Action revealed the County’s total average “spend” on contracts was 33% for Small Business Enterprises (SBE), but only 6% for Minority Business Enterprises (MBE), 9% for Women Business Enterprises (WBE) and .16% for Veteran Owned Business Enterprises (VOBE). The Freeholder Board commends the County of Essex for having such a strong showing in the area of SBE but concludes that the total average “spend” on MBE, WBE, and VOBE contracts should be greater.

As a solution, the ordinance proposes an affirmative action set-aside program established with quantifiable goals of increasing the MBE, WBE, and VOBE contracts “spend” and therefore, increase contract participation too. The law further creates a “Joint Venture” program with an emphasis on large construction contracts; this means for major construction jobs, large firms will partner with MBE, WBE, or VOBE firms to bid on contracts. 

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The Joint Venture method has been successful in other places in the United States such as the City of Atlanta. The result is removing historical blockades preventing MBE, WBE, and VOBE businesses from being competitive in the bid process. For example, it is difficult for many of these companies to obtain “bonding” as it involves having large amounts of cash on hand not committed to use. This Freeholder Ordinance states that the bond must be assigned to the joint venture formed and thus open access to major construction contract participation for MBE, WBE, and VOBE businesses.

“By leveling the playing field to increase opportunities and economic growth for companies who have throughout the nation historically been marginalized, this is a hand up, not a handout.” Said, President Timberlake.

Timberlake went on to say, “This legislation is needed because, on average, women in the USA make twenty cents less on the dollar than men; contracting more women-owned businesses can help close that gap. There are plenty of qualified, ready, and able minority-owned companies who can do the work but face passive discriminatory policies limiting access to capital.  This legislation can improve such conditions and offer economic opportunity. Furthermore, our veterans had our back, and now this law mandates we have theirs by making an effort to support their businesses.” 

Freeholder At-Large Lebby Jones stated,“The need for this ordinance has been a long time coming. I am honored to participate in this effort to increase contract participation for women-owned, minority-owned, and veteran-owned businesses who have long been at a disadvantage.” 

Freeholder At-Large Rufus Johnson commented, “This ordinance will open access to economic development opportunities for companies that have been historically overlooked,  disregarded, and systematically abused nationwide.” 

The skill and success of effective elected officials can be measured by how they can pull together the community and work across the aisle to achieve a collective good. This law has been endorsed by the following: New Jersey State NAACP, local Essex NAACP chapters, Essex County Latino Chamber of Commerce, New Jersey African American Chamber of Commerce, National Organization for Women Essex-NJ, Guyana American Heritage, Sandji CDC, People’s Organization for Progress, clergy throughout the County, Community Leader Rebecca Dogget, veteran organizations and many more. Endorsements from the past and present electeds include: Congressman Donald Payne, Jr., State Senator Ronald L. Rice, Assembly Speaker Emeritus Sheila Y. Oliver, Assemblyman Thomas P. Giblin, Assemblywoman Cleopatra G. Tucker, former Assemblyman/Freeholder and current Essex County Democratic Chairman LeRoy J. Jones, Jr., former Assemblyman Willam Payne, East Orange Council President (Mayor-elect) Ted R. Green, South Orange Village Trustee (Councilwoman) Deborah Davis Ford, and former Essex County Freeholder Carol Y. Clark.

President Timberlake said, “Everything is a team effort. Thank you to the endorsing community groups, electeds and leaders, Freeholder Counsels Michael Parlavecchio and Evans Anyanwu, Esq., Freeholders Lebby C. Jones, Rufus I. Johnson, the entire Freeholder Board and staff including Debra Marvel and Chris Taylor, County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr., and his Administration including Robert Jackson, Chief of Staffs, Counsels, and Julius Coltre.” 

The public hearing on this ordinance will be held on July 19, 2017, at 7:00 PM, in Room 506, at the Hall of Records, located at 465 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Blvd., in Newark, New Jersey, and is expected to pass unanimously.