Philly port increasing business with LGBT companies, city poised to follow

Philly port increasing business with LGBT companies, city poised to follow

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A state and a local agency in Philadelphia have both made moves in the last six months to add LGBT-owned business to their lists of diverse companies from which to contract work.

The Philadelphia Regional Port Authority will look to work with more LGBT companies, it announced at an event this month after the board approved a new diversity and inclusion plan in November.

Meanwhile, Philadelphia City Council held hearings in May to add “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Persons” as a new category in the registry maintained by the Office of Economic Opportunity, something officials said would require data analysis to complete.

The National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce pegs this momentum to the arrival in the city of the Democratic National Convention. In a first for political conventions, Democratic organizers partnered with the LGBT chamber to help source companies. The convention committed to spending 35 percent of its budget with diverse businesses.

“That’s a big impetus to get Philadelphia moving on this,” said Jonathan Lovitz, vice president of external communications for NGLCC. “There are so many terrific LGBT-owned businesses in Philadelphia.”

The local movement for business inclusion mirrors a national trend, Lovitz added.

Over the last year, NGLCC has worked to certify LGBT businesses to bid on contracts with Massachusetts; King County, which includes Seattle; and the California Public Utilities Commission.

“This is moving really, really fast around the country,” Lovitz said, noting the LGBT chamber is also working with the Philadelphia port and city council.

An important difference exists between the two entities as they pursue LGBT inclusion. It has to do with how the programs get off the ground.

Port Authority plan

The Port Authority plan is now in effect.

Kate Bailey, director of procurement, said her agency consults with the Independence Business Alliance, Philadelphia’s LGBT chamber of commerce, to build a database of LGBT businesses.

“At the end of this pilot year, I’d like to say we saw a strong amount” of LGBT companies join the database to be considered for contracts, Bailey said.

The port’s new policy seeks to add diversity to its major contractors by making them aware of subcontractors that are LGBT-owned. The plan also added veteran-owned businesses as a new group of underutilized businesses. The port already recognized women-owned and minority-owned businesses in its previous diversity plan.

The new policy stipulates that an underutilized business must participate in at least 20 percent of the contract value awarded to a prime bidder.

“We’re going from aspirational goals to contractual obligations,” Bailey said.

City plan

The earliest LGBT businesses could be included on the Office of Economic Opportunity’s registry is July 2017 with the publication of its Annual Participation Goals report for fiscal year 2018.

Angela Dowd-Burton, the office’s deputy commerce director, said the goals would be generated in part through the completion of the Annual Disparity Study.

Dowd-Burton offered this hypothetical example: If the disparity study found 10 percent of the region’s market was based on LGBT businesses, that would inform the goals the city sets for contracts to LGBT-owned businesses.

“A lot of this work is governed by very nitty-gritty legislation,” said Sylvie Gallier Howard, chief of staff at the Department of Commerce, which houses the Office of Economic Opportunity. “We’re very committed. We’re just working out how we technically make that all happen with all our requirements.”

In May, Dowd-Burton offered testimony to a City Council committee to continue exploring ways to grow the registry of diverse businesses.

Some LGBT advocates had concerns about the disparity study’s methods.

“When you’re asking people to self-identify, it’s almost like asking someone to opt-in to potential discrimination,” said Nellie Fitzpatrick, director of the Philadelphia Office of LGBT Affairs.

Nondiscrimination laws do not include sexual orientation or gender identity at the state or federal levels.

National response

Lovitz of the NGLCC said his organization prefers diversity programs to get started before data analysis is conducted.

He said the chamber has proof LGBT businesses can take time to come out: In one year, the California Public Utilities Commission saw a 203-percent increase in the number of LGBT-owned businesses that joined the state-contracting database.

Lovitz emphasized that there has never been a national codified study to understand the number and make-up of LGBT Americans. He said even the chamber’s own estimate, which notes 1.4-million LGBT business owners, is low.

“Put a seat at the table first with no goals or benchmarks,” Lovitz said. “Once people know it’s safe to be counted and included in the procurement process, more people will feel comfortable coming to Philadelphia and doing business there.

“If you build it, we know they will come.” 

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