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Legislative Forum focus on ‘environment of inclusion’

marybrightThe City of Memphis' declared commitment to "an environment of inclusion" was the backdrop for a recent Legislative Forum that put the spotlight on doing businesses with "minority and women-owned" firms.

Local stakeholders were invited to City Hall (Nov. 13) for an update on MWBE (Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprise) programs generally and the city's program in particular.

"One of our greatest assets in this city is our diversity," said Mayor AC Wharton Jr. "My administration is committed and dedicated to creating an environment of inclusion and we must start with changing a mind-set, which begins with educating and informing those on the frontlines (that this) is a critical issue.

"And that's why the Legislative Forum was so essential," said Wharton. "We have made great progress with increasing opportunities for minority and women-owned businesses and we will continue to expand those opportunities."

The forum included a panel discussion led by national experts on MWBE programs. Memphis' MWBE program, which is administered through the Office of Contract Compliance, assists certified minority and women-owned businesses with participation on City contracts.

"If you want to accomplish something great, you must take the time to talk with and take counsel from those, that have done it before. That is how you avoid mistakes, and allow yourself a clear path to success," said Mary L. Bright, Esq., the City's Contract Compliance Officer.

"And that is why the Legislative Forum was so important. It was imperative to include those that have successfully developed and defended diversity programs nationally."

The panelists included Anthony Robinson, Esq., a civil rights lawyer and president of the Washington, D.C.-based Minority Business Enterprise Legal Defense and Education Fund. He provided a historical perspective of diversity programs.

Best practices as it relates to diversity programs was the focus of Sarah C. von der Lippe, Esq., a Washington, D.C. sole practitioner lawyer who primarily focuses on programs to assist minority and women-owned businesses, especially in the area of government contracting and the transportation industry.

Memphian Rodney Strong, Esq., chairman of Griffin & Strong, P.C., a law and public policy consulting firm in Atlanta, structured his presentation to provide a broader-context view of Memphis' MWBE program.

The City of Memphis adopted its first MWBE program in 1995 following the city's 1994 Disparity Study conducted by D.J. Miller & Associates. The current MWBE program – now titled the Equal Business Opportunity (EBO) Program – was adopted in 2010. It's based on a study conducted by Griffin & Strong, P.C., which included all City divisions except for Memphis Light, Gas & Water.

Elected officials, division directors and city employees attended the forum.

(For more information MWBE program, contact the Office of Contract Compliance at 901-636-6210.)

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