Some Minneapolis City Council members say the city should push contractors harder to hire more women and minorities — and deliver harsher penalties for companies that don't comply.
After receiving a report Wednesday on the city's annual performance in securing contracts with minority businesses, council members said the city should be working harder to learn from companies and projects that have involved higher numbers of minorities and women.
Targets set two years ago by state officials include "participation targets" for minority and women in the city's large construction projects: 32 percent of projects involving minorities and 6 percent involving women. In 2014, the city reported that 18.4 percent of the projects involved minority-owned companies and workers, and 5.7 percent included women. Those numbers were each up slightly from 2013, but both fell short of higher rates the city reached a few years ago.
Council Member Blong Yang said the latest numbers are a reflection of the city continuing to do business with companies that don't meet the city's goals.
"At this point, I just see failure," he said.
Civil Rights Director Velma Korbel defended the city's efforts. She said the 32 percent target for minority businesses is a standard that's often difficult to reach on smaller projects that require specific types of businesses.
Korbel noted that larger projects, like the new Vikings stadium, are more likely to include high minority participation because they involve a wide range of services. In the fourth quarter of 2014, for example, the city's contracted work on the Downtown East project around the stadium involved 27 percent minority workers and more than 9 percent women.
Hitting the 32 percent mark, Korbel said, "requires the planets to align." She said the city sometimes finds that it can't locate a minority- or women-owned business, or a company that's already meeting or exceeding the city's targets.
"To me this sounds like an ideal time to put out a call from the Minneapolis City Council to the training programs to the unions to help build capacity in the workforce," she said. "That's why we're not beating the goal. The city of Minneapolis cannot do it on its own."
But Yang and Council Member Cam Gordon said the city should go further to penalize companies that agree to the targets and then fail to meet them.
While some companies have performed well, Yang said, "a lot of folks are failing."
"At some point, we're going to have to say: 'These are our goals, and if you can't meet them, we will do business with somebody who can,' " he said.
Gordon proposed that the city do more research into how some companies have successfully hired more minority workers or contracted with minority- and female-owned businesses. While the city can't legally require businesses to hire women and minorities, he said it does have some power in how it can pick and choose contracts and work with businesses to encourage more diversity among their ranks.