Effort aims to diversity city contracting

The city of Harrisburg spent about $150 million on contracts for goods and services between 2017 and 2021.

  • Slightly more than 7% of the total went to Black-, women- veteran-, and other minority-owned contractors, according to estimates in a study published last fall on contracting disparities in Pennsylvania’s capital.
  • If spending had been in line with the estimated diversity of contractors available within a five-county radius of the city, the share would have been more than four times higher, or about 30%, according to the study, prepared for the city by Philadelphia-based consulting firm Econsult Solutions
  • A new effort is aiming to close the gap, building on recommendations contained in the report, which combined surveys of local businesses, interviews with city officials, and local, state and federal data.

What effort: A partnership between the Harrisburg Regional Chamber &Capital Region Economic Development Corp. and Impact Harrisburg.

  • Impact Harrisburg, a grantmaking nonprofit, is awarding the chamber and CREDC $125,000 to carry out recommendations in the Econsult report.
  • The work will fall broadly into two categories, said Ryan Unger, the chamber’s president and CEO.
  • On one track, the chamber and CREDC will seek to work with existing minority-owned businesses to ensure they’re aware of contracting opportunities and in a position to take advantage of them.
  • On another track, the organizations will focus on increasing the number of businesses available to compete for city contracts.
  • Another focus will be figuring out how to construct requests for proposals to ensure greater equity, Unger said.
  • “We know where we’ve been,” he said. “It’s going to take continued transparency to gauge how we’re doing.”

Why is this happening: Harrisburg officials commissioned the study last summer in an effort to increase diversity in contracting.

  • The report essentially found that Harrisburg underutilizes diverse contractors in construction, professional services and other areas, despite being one of the state’s most diverse cities.
  • But the report also made a series of recommendations, ranging from creating a single directory of diverse suppliers to breaking larger contracts into smaller bites.
  • The ultimate goal is to create parity for all contractors, said Gloria Martin Roberts, chair of Impact Harrisburg and former president of city council.
  • “I think we have the data that supports the fact that it has not been a fair system. It’s not a level playing field,” she said. “What we’re trying  to do is level that playing field.”


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