Spreading Innovation in Equitable Contracting

Ten new cities join the next City Accelerator cohort to leverage municipal spending and nurture diverse businesses.

Performance and Innovation 229

At the Governing Summit on Performance and Innovation in early June, we had the pleasure of announcing the participants of the newest City Accelerator cohort.  

  • Boston
  • Cleveland
  • El Paso
  • Houston
  • Kansas City
  • Minneapolis
  • Nashville
  • Philadelphia
  • Pittsburgh
  • South Bend
There are several firsts about this cohort. It’s the first time we have expanded the cohort from three, four or five cities, to 10 cities. It’s also the first time we are revisiting a challenge faced by many cities -- municipal procurement. And never before have we set out to intentionally test the implementation of strategies we’ve already promoted. The Culture, Collaboration, and Capital resource guide, created as a result of the previous cohort on procurement, captured lessons learned by the cities of Charlotte, Chicago, Los Angeles, Memphis and Milwaukee, and explains the various, unique tools the cities utilized on the journey to make their municipal contracting systems/processes more equitable. Instead of simply producing and distributing the guide to local governments and hoping it will be used, we intend to help these 10 new participating cities to test the ideas surfaced in the guide in their own cities to see if we can help amplify change and improvements to municipal procurement as a tool to promote greater economic opportunity.   

Authors of the guide, Griffin & Strong, wrote “[l]egacy and access have historically helped to create monopolies on opportunity in government contracting, but the destruction of these barriers provides entrant, startup and small businesses owned by people of color to have a fighting chance.” 

With technical support from Griffin & Strong, these 10 cities will rethink, reform and repair their procurement systems to be more intentionally inclusive. Multiple departments will be represented in each of the City Accelerator teams. The fact that representatives from various offices and departments will be engaged (Mayors’ or City managers’ offices, Procurement and Purchasing departments, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion offices, Economic Development, Legal, and Finance departments) demonstrates that these municipalities are committed to fostering an internal culture that values diversity and positively impacts the inclusiveness of public contracting. Moreover, cities like El Paso, Nashville, Kansas City and South Bend are working with their Chambers of Commerce to maximize and expand contracting opportunities for their diverse vendors and contractors. 

The 10 cities in this cohort represent populations ranging in size from 102,000 to 2.3 million and are diverse in terms of geographic location and racial and ethnic makeup of their populations. We hope city leaders across the country see a peer amongst these cities and realize they are not alone in facing challenges to improve their procurement systems.

This 10-city cohort will dedicate the next 12 months to testing new ideas and learnings from the previous cohort, and further provide the field with examples of how cities can leverage their municipal spending to nurture businesses that reflect the diversity of their residents. The cities will explore and test ways to streamline the bidding process, unbundle large contracts, rethink low-bid procurement, improve prompt payments and forecast anticipated expenditures, along with other strategies explained in Culture, Collaboration, and Capital
. As with other City Accelerator cohorts, the cities will receive one-to-one technical assistance, in-person and virtual peer-learning opportunities, and grant dollars to help them remove barriers that businesses owned by people of color face when seeking to secure contracts with municipal government.  

Perhaps some of the most valuable mentors to this new cohort will be the cities whose stories appear in the guide. For instance, since they were in the City Accelerator, Charlotte has helped two MWBEs get contracts with the NBA All Star Game and is preparing another group of MWBEs for opportunities at Charlotte Douglass Airport. The new cohort will also be able to learn about how inclusive procurement efforts can survive mayoral transitions from Chicago where Mayor Lightfoot is a self-proclaimed procurement geek who has embraced the work of Chicago’s City Accelerator team and is committed to taking the city’s equitable contracting efforts to the next level under her leadership. The cohort will also get a chance to visit with the Memphis City Accelerator team this month. Memphis’ Mayor Strickland and his staff are ensuring enterprises owned by people of color are equitably represented as vendors across the city’s many contracts, and are also nurturing strategic partnerships such as the 800 initiative to further expand the work.

We are eager to see innovations in equitable contracting spread to 10 more cities and beyond, because we believe when more cities practice equitable and inclusive contracting, more businesses owned by people of color will be able to create jobs and earn revenue that will lead to stronger, more vibrant cities.

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Senior Vice President for Financial Inclusion and Sustainable Cities at Citi Foundation