(TRENTON) - The Department of the Treasury announced several key initiatives on Wednesday that will advance the Murphy Administration’s commitment to ensuring Minority-, Women-, and Veteran-Owned Businesses (MWVOB) can more fully participate in New Jersey’s multi-billion dollar supply chain.
Chief among these initiatives is the commissioning of the first disparity study in nearly 20 years to measure current spend data, which is viewed as key to identifying and opening up new opportunities for MWVOBs to contract with the State of New Jersey to provide goods and services. The disparity study has been a priority for the Murphy Administration from day one.
“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,” said Governor Phil Murphy. “This study will provide us with an opportunity to create a more equitable business environment, which is a win for us all.”
State Treasurer Elizabeth Maher Muoio has made it a priority to get the study underway, announcing it last fall at the inaugural Garden State Minority-, Women- and Veteran-Owned Business Summit organized by Treasury’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion, which is headed up by the State’s Chief Diversity Officer Hester Agudosi.
“Recognizing how long it has been since the last study was conducted, we tried to ensure that this new study will capture as much data as possible, beyond just statistics that are available on our spend, but also including outreach to stakeholders and community groups as well,” said Treasurer Muoio. “This will give us the tools and the information necessary to determine where our strengths and weaknesses lie so we can implement more equitable procurement strategies moving forward. The state has a vast supply chain of goods, commodities, and professional and financial services and in a truly equitable society every qualified vendor in our state should have the opportunity to participate in the economy fueled by their tax dollars.”
The Office of Diversity and Inclusion will oversee the effort, which is the first study of its kind to be commissioned by the State since 2003. It will be conducted by Mason Tillman Associates, LTD, who was recently selected as the winning bidder after a rigorous procurement process.
The goal, as laid out in the bid solicitation, is to research, structure, and conduct a comprehensive and legally defensible disparity study of the State’s contract awards in construction, goods, and services over a five year period (July 1, 2015 through June 30, 2020) to determine whether there is a disparity between the number of qualified minority, women, and veteran-owned businesses ready, willing, and able to perform services, and the number of vendors/contractors actually engaged to perform such services. The Disparity Study will include a review of contracts for construction, goods, commodities, and services and shall be appropriately structured so that the state may, if appropriate, use the information to fashion race- and/or gender-neutral, and if necessary, race- and gender-conscious methods of achieving those goals for state contracts and employment by state vendors.
“This is a critical time as the COVID-19 crisis has laid bare the structural disparities that have persisted in this country and state with the greatest impact on Black and Latin communities,” said Chief Diversity Officer Hester Agudosi. “I’m honored to work on this latest effort to advance equity in the State’s procurement process. Entrepreneurship is an essential driver of societal health and wealth, and a formidable engine of economic growth. The findings and recommendations brought forth from the study will enable the state to address any disparities that may exist in public contracting and level the playing field for diverse business owners and entrepreneurs.”
With similar goals in mind, Treasurer Muoio also announced the hiring of lifelong New Jersey resident Edward Ramos for the newly created position of Diversity Portfolio Manager within the Division of Investment (DOI). Ramos will be an integral part of DOI’s ongoing efforts to identify a wider universe of diverse investment fund managers, brokers, consultants, and advisers to help manage the State’s roughly $80 billion pension fund.
Under the Murphy Administration, DOI has demonstrated a commitment to increasing opportunities for MWBEs. Since January of 2018, $1.4 billion of $4.4 billion in new capital has been committed to MWBE (Minority and Women Business Enterprises) fund managers, representing 31% of all newly committed capital. By comparison, from 2013 to 2017, $1.23 billion - or 7.25% - in new capital was committed to MWBE fund managers.
The Diversity Portfolio Manager position was one of a number of suggestions born out of a meeting last year that the Treasurer, her staff, and administration officials attended in New York City, which was arranged by Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network. With the creation of the new position and the hiring of Ramos, DOI hopes to build on its efforts to position New Jersey as a leader amongst public pension plans in utilizing a wider universe of diverse financial professionals.
Ramos holds both an MBA and CFA and has over 25 years of experience investing in over 50 different countries where he has a demonstrated track record of success and a long history with public pension plan clients. His vast experience includes working at the first African American firm that handled international equity, building and leading emerging teams, and managing money for many MWBE Funds of Funds.
"Having been born and raised in the Garden State, I personally know quite a number of the 800,000 pension beneficiaries who are relying on our team at the Division of Investment to provide them the best returns possible for their retirement funds in return for the hard work and dedicated careers they provided to the state,” said Ramos. “As an investment professional for over 25 years, I am bringing my unique global experiences and strong network in the universe of diverse portfolio managers and funds to cast the net wider in our search for true talent in pursuit of higher returns."
Additionally, Treasury adopted new MWBE regulations in late November, which were officially published on Monday, that create a more business-friendly process for MWBE certification. The regulations are designed to streamline the procedures to become certified by: allowing for provisional certification, which is particularly helpful to companies in their infancy who may not have all the requisite documentation available just yet; creating an elongated three year certification period rather than requiring yearly recertification; establishing reciprocity with other certification entities, most importantly the federal Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE); and establishing a clear cut process for applicants to challenge a certification denial.
The long-awaited overhaul of the regulations was proposed in mid-August after the previous administration had let the old regulations lapse. The newly proposed regulations underwent a public comment period that closed on October 16. They were approved for publication in mid-November and officially published in the New Jersey Register on December 21.
Any business looking to be certified as a small-, minority-, women-, veteran-, or disabled veteran-owned business should visit the Department of the Treasury’s online portal to get started on the application. Businesses can now become certified in more than one category for just one single fee.
Any business looking to be notified about state procurement opportunities for goods and services should register their company with NJSTART, the State’s eProcurement system, at www.njstart.gov.