Push is on for Murphy to deliver for minority-owned businesses
TRENTON — Some lawmakers and activists are upping the pressure entering Gov. Phil Murphy’s re-election year for him to deliver on economic promises for minority-owned businesses.
Through its Joint Committee on Economic Justice and Equal Employment Opportunity, the Legislature is looking to boost minority- and women-owned businesses. Said Sen. Ronald Rice, D-Essex, said decades of legislative hearings have yielded few meaningful results in terms of contracts and opportunities.
“I think we have to recognize that although sometimes the governor’s going to get offended, even though many of us support the governor, for speaking truth to power,” Rice said.
The state Treasury Department last week announced it had awarded a contract for conducting the first disparity study examining state contracting since 2003, as well as the hiring of a newly created diversity portfolio manager for the state’s pension investments.
Civil rights attorney Shavar Jeffries said the state was complicit in generating racial wealth disparities and must take aggressive action to reverse them and that a disparity study, while important, would be just the start.
“Simply put, New Jersey is one of the most unjust and inequitable states in the country when it comes to economic justice, particularly for people of color,” Jeffries said.
The diversity study was announced in the fall and will be conducted by Mason Tillman Associates, which was recently selected as the winning bidder and also conducted the previous study. It will research the state’s contracts awarded between July 2015 and June 2020 for construction, goods, commodities and services.
“This disparity study is not only long overdue, it is an integral part of our vision for a stronger, fairer, and more resilient, post-COVID economy that opens doors for diverse businesses to play a greater role in shaping our state’s future,” Murphy said in a statement.
Even large and seemingly well-connected companies can have a hard time breaking through.
Randal Pinkett, chairman and chief executive officer of BCT Partners, said the consulting firm has grown to become the second-largest black-owned company in New Jersey and 92nd biggest in the United States – without a single dollar in state contracts, despite multiple efforts.
“It has been an absolute cesspool, an absolute mess, an absolute wasteland of me trying to find opportunity from the very state that produced me,” Pinkett said.
In 2009, Pinkett was under consideration as a running-mate to Gov. Jon Corzine. That nomination wound up going to now-Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen.
“I mean, if Randal Pinkett is not in the mix, then the small and women-owned, minority businesses are never going to be,” Weinberg said.
In January 2019, Murphy signed a law requiring the Division of Investment to try to use minority and women-owned financial institutions to provide brokerage and investment management services.
Jacob Wolthour Jr., co-founder and chief executive officer of Blueprint Capital Advisors, said not one has been hired since.
“Many of them don’t even bother to market themselves to the New Jersey Division of Investment because for years the doors have not been open,” Wolthour said.
The Treasury Department says that since January 2018, $1.4 billion of $4.4 billion in new capital has been committed to MWBE (Minority and Women Business Enterprises) fund managers, 31%. That compares to $1.23 billion, or 7.25%, from 2013 to 2017.
Wolthour’s company has sued the state, claiming an investment strategy it pitched to the state was declined – then given by the state to another company that was hired instead. The state denies the allegation.
Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.