Chicago targets minority-owned businesses with Web site
- By Patrick J. Walsh
- Aug 07, 2000
Merging the aims of public policy with the mechanisms of information technology,
Chicago's Department of Purchases, Contracts and Supplies has embraced the
Internet for the city's Minority- and Woman-owned Business Procurement Program.
Launched in 1990, the nationally renowned program enables the department
to award at least 25 percent of the dollar value of all city contracts to
minority-owned businesses, and 5 percent to woman-owned businesses. More
than 2,000 companies are certified to participate in the program.
Since it went live a little more than a year ago, the department's
World Wide Web site has evolved from a relatively simple billboard to a
robust information site that is carefully keyed to encouraging the city's
With sections devoted to explaining how the purchasing process works,
how to conform to bid/proposal procedures and how to become certified as
a minority- or woman-owned business, the site is a public information tool
and an educational forum for companies seeking contracting opportunities
with the city.
"We're using the Web site to ensure that minority-owned businesses and
woman-owned businesses aren't left out of the information flow," said David
Malone, the city's chief procurement officer. "It provides an easy way for
them to understand how bids are being awarded, and to find out the results
of the bid process."
The site also acts as a magnet for Chicago's Target Market Procurement
Program, which designates a number of city contracts each year that can
be bid on only by minority- or woman-owned businesses. The goal is for
10 percent of all contract dollars to be awarded through the Target Market
"We see the Web site as a sort of marketing tool for the Target Market
program, as a way to direct minority- and woman-owned businesses toward
opportunities with the city of Chicago," Malone said.
Although the idea of using the Web to promote the city's procurement
policies seems straightforward, its practice has involved the Department
of Purchases in a full range of digital divide issues — from questions about
access to hopes for increased interactivity and e-commerce.
Reservations about the ability of smaller businesses to use the Web as a
tool for information gathering fail to take into account the Web site's
role as an additional, rather than primary, source of information, Malone
A typical concern is the city's policy of publicly advertising contracts
with a dollar value greater than $10,000.
"We advertise those opportunities in the newspaper and will continue
to do so. But when we tell business owners that we also plan to put that
information on the Web, some of them wonder if they'll be left out if they
don't have Internet access," Malone said.
"They need to be reassured that we will continue to advertise in the
newspaper and participate in trade shows and do all the other things we
normally do to share information with the minority- and woman-owned business
population," Malone said.
On the other end of the Internet access spectrum, there are a number
of vendors that have expressed interest in doing business electronically.
Most, though, are happy for now to have the information the site provides
without the complexity of installing and maintaining an e-commerce infrastructure.
In the meantime, the site promotes the city's goal of creating a more
inclusive procurement process by helping business owners. It guides them
through filling out the certification application and explains the bid award
process so that business owners apply correctly.
"Right now, the primary interest of most companies is just in learning
how to do business with the city," Malone said. "The tangible benefit of
the site is that it guides people through that process. It makes them aware
of opportunities and explains the programs we've got in place to facilitate
their involvement. And as we move down the road toward more e-commerce,
their interaction with the site will ensure that they will know what we're
doing and how it will effect them well in advance." l
—Walsh is a freelance writer based in Peekskill, N.Y.