Durham County is short of its goal to award 25 percent of its contracts to minority- and women-owned businesses but appears to be on track to do so by the end of the fiscal year, which concludes at the end of the month.

Farad Ali, president of The Institute of Minority Economic Development (and a candidate for mayor of Durham), gave a report detailing the the progress of the county’s Minority and Women’s Business Enterprise program during a Board of Commissioners work session on Monday. The program is designed to empower minority-owned businesses to compete for government contracts, addressing historical inequalities in the types of businesses selected.

Ali said that during the first three quarters of last year, the county spent 21.86 percent of its total contracting dollars with minority businesses, but he’s confident the county will reach its “aspirational goal” of 25 percent by the end of the fiscal year. The contracts awarded to women- and minority-owned businesses amounted to about $9 million, out of the $41 million spent on construction, goods, and services.

The county adopted its minority- and women-business enterprise ordinance in November 2016, after a study of county contracts showed that Durham County awarded just 6 percent of contracts to minority- and female-owned firms from July 2007 to June 2012.

Much of the program’s current efforts have been focused on making sure the targeted businesses understand the process and requirements for doing business with the county.

Ali said he would like to see the focus shifted away from construction as the main driver for minority participation. He encouraged the county to seek goods and services from local minority businesses.

“What we’ve been able to do over the past year is to focus on not just doing outreach externally to tell people why and how they can come into the county and preparing them, but also telling people inside the county that you have to change the culture of how you buy,” he said.

This article appeared in print with the headline “+GOALS.”