Business owners of underrepresented groups expressed support for a new Suffolk County unit tasked with improving diversity of companies that receive personal services contracts. NewsdayTV's Shari Einhorn reports. Credit: Staff

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone on Friday announced the creation of a new unit to increase the participation of businesses owned by underrepresented groups, known as MWBEs, in the county's procurement process. 

The initiative, announced in the final days of Bellone's 12 years in office, comes in response to a study showing that between 2015 and 2019, the largest share of county vendor contracts were awarded to companies owned by white men. 

"With this study, Suffolk County is now taking action to ensure higher participation among MWBE and service disabled veteran-owned business subcontractors who work in conjunction with prime contractors on construction projects in Suffolk County," said Bellone, a term-limited Democrat leaving office Dec. 31.

The county commissioned Mason Tillman Associates, based in Oakland, California, for the study. The firm's final report, dated Dec. 18, includes a 263-page study available on the county's website beginning Tuesday, officials said.

Analysts looked at $1.2 billion in county spending in four categories: construction, professional services, goods and personal services. 

More than 95% of Suffolk County's budget for professional service contracts — the largest pot of money available for vendor contracts — went to businesses owned by nonminority males, according to the study. 

Garry Johnson, economic development chairman for the NAACP New York State Conference, called the results "abysmal and show a complete disregard for minority contracting in the county."

"Because it's clear this has been on the back burner for the outgoing county executive, we need this to be on the front burner for the incoming county executive and we look forward to working with him to address this in a constructive manner," Johnson said. County Executive-elect Ed Romaine, a Republican, takes office Jan. 1.  

Deputy County Executive Vanessa Baird-Streeter said the county was unable to begin the study before 2019, when its finances improved.

"We began this study at the beginning of 2020 and then the pandemic hit, so we recommenced the work in 2021," she said.

She said the report and data give the county the "legal framework" to set policies for the county's procurement of MWBE and disabled-veteran owned business contracts.

Bellone said the goal would be for 16% of county contracts to go to MWBE vendors.

"This is an attainable goal — this is more than an attainable goal," Bellone said.

Julian Middleton, of the Suffolk County committee of the Long Island African American Chamber of Commerce, said it "will help to level the playing field and open the door for significant opportunities." 

New York State has exceeded a goal set by former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to spend at least 30% with minority- and women-owned firms per year.

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