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Entrepreneurs like Joi Beard, the African American and female owner of Derby Electric, will soon have an easier time bidding for contracts to rebuild Lower Manhattan, thanks to a law signed Tuesday by Governor Pataki.

The legislation requires all city and state agencies receiving federal dollars for construction in the Ground Zero area to recruit minority- and women-owned firms typically underrepresented in the construction industry. While there are no set quotas, agencies are expected to create and publish their own plans to recruit more women and minority owned businesses. The legislation also mandates that companies with contracts worth $1 million or more run apprenticeship programs.

“It will be helpful because women-owned and people-of-color businesses will automatically get some work,” Beard said.

The Coordinated Construction Act, originally sponsored by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, requires agencies that hire private contractors to build below Houston Street to “solicit and recruit” women and minority-owned businesses. A similar law is already in place at the state level.

Agencies likely to be affected by the new law include the Department of Design and Construction, which is renovating many downtown streets, and the Department of Transportation, which is constructing new ferry stations and renovating the East River Waterfront. The law will affect roughly $3.5 billion in Lower Manhattan construction, according to a December 2002 summary based on a report from the Mayor’s office.

Stephanie Greenwood, a research analyst for the government watchdog group Good Jobs New York, sees the passage of the law as a positive shift for Pataki. His usual approach to economic development is to “help bigger businesses and hope it trickles down,” she said.
According to a new report released by her group on Thursday, the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, which oversees Ground Zero reconstruction, often awards grants to well-established entrepreneurs, some with ties to board members, rather than to smaller companies.

On June 21, Al Sharpton and members of the City Council’s Black, Latino and Asian Caucus led a march from Ground Zero to City Hall to demand more World Trade Center construction jobs for minorities. “The march was held to highlight the fact that many African Americans and Hispanics are left out of construction jobs,” said Joshua Rivera, legislative director at Councilmember Leroy Comrie’s office.

The LMDC says they are actively seeking minorities for their projects. Spokesperson Sara Banda said a conference for women and minority contractors held August 9 was part of an effort to award 20 percent of the LMDC’s expenditures to women- and minority-owned businesses.

Bruce Herman, Executive Director of the National Law Employment Project, is optimistic that things are changing. But, he cautioned, real success will come from nurturing minority-owned businesses, not just recruiting them. “They need support and mentoring,” he said, “to get established—and to grow.”

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