Shawntelle Matney’s real estate and construction business was doing well enough, but in the wake of her husband’s untimely death and with three young children to feed, she needed to supplement the boom-and-bust profits of house flipping with more consistent income.
Matney connected with the City of Charleston’s Minority and Women Business Enterprise program and discovered that any for-profit company in business for two years and 51% -owned by a woman, minority, or veteran with a daily management role could sign up and get a boost in the number of opportunities for submitting a bid on a new contract.
Minority and women-owned businesses qualify with gross sales under $7.5 million to earn preferential bidding on contracts less than $25,000.
The City aims to spend 20% of its money on outsourced services with minority and women-owned businesses, says Ruth Jordan, the program’s manager.
“Certification is a license to hunt for business,” she said.
Earning Business Through MWBE Certification
Matney checks all three boxes as a Black woman who retired from the military after 20 years. She filled out the paperwork to get MCC Property Solutions certified in 2020 and has won contracts to repair four roofs under a program in which the City helps low-income homeowners finance their roof repair.
MCC Property Solutions’ most recent project is a house in West Ashley owned by an elderly woman. Matney knew the roof’s structure was in poor shape and would require lifting and replacing the rafters. The roof’s multiple pitches required the removal of the chimney and two types of shingles. But she took on the project because she says, she is intrinsically motivated to do good work that helps people.
In fact, Matney believes part of her job is to build relationships with her customers and put them at ease about her intention to act in their best interests. She wants to know that the work will be done right and they will be charged a fair amount for it.
“I know some contractors who make their money with unnecessary change orders,” she said. Instead, she did minor repairs around the soffits and facia without charging the customer.
Minority & Women Business Programs
Many municipalities have established similar programs to encourage a level playing field for minorities and women in securing public works projects. The State of South Carolina established an Office of Small and Minority Business Contracting and Certification because women and minorities are, the legislation said, “historically restricted from full participation in free enterprise system.”
The Lowcountry Graduate Center recognizes that unless economic development benefits the entire community, it is a hollow goal. Programs like these help equalize opportunity, affording traditionally under-represented groups a way to compete for work. This is in keeping with goals embraced by the Charleston Regional Development Alliance (CRDA) aimed at closing income gaps between races through the creation of opportunities for historically disadvantaged populations and thereby generating economic vibrancy for the entire region.
For certification by the state of South Carolina, businesses must have a year of incorporation and the principal must own less than $1.32 million in assets. Contractors are incentivized to employ minority- and women-owned sub-contractors by a 4% tax credit. That allows subcontractors who qualify to market themselves to contractors, says Pam Green, director of the state office. The state aims to spend 10% of its discretionary budget with these enterprises.
Requirements: Capacity, Cash Flow, Capability, and Experience
The Federal government offers a series of programs to uplift what it calls small, disadvantaged businesses through the Small Business Administration. With half a trillion dollars at its disposal, the SBA’s 8a program provides a one-time, 9-year window of opportunity for “socially and economically disadvantaged entrepreneurs,” including those with disabilities, to win contracts worth up to $4 million in goods.
For this opportunity, qualifying small businesses must have the capacity, cash flow, capability, and experience, says William Furman, senior area manager for the South Carolina SBA office. “Don’t apply if you’re not in a position to grow,” he said.
The SBA also provides copious technical assistance, seminars, and a trade show to showcase qualified businesses.
Leveling the Playing Field
None of these programs is a guarantee that certified businesses will earn more jobs. That will depend on their own initiative and competence. They just help level the playing field. For Matney, that means a woman in the male-dominated construction field has a chance.
“Construction requires capital upfront, but I couldn’t go to a traditional bank. I had to borrow from private investors and put my own skin in the game,” she said. “That is why these programs are absolutely necessary.”