Santa Clara County wants to empower minority-owned businesses
Workers prepare food at Vietnoms, a Vietnamese restaurant in San Jose. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

Santa Clara County is launching a disparity study to level the playing field for minority-owned businesses.

The county wants to be more inclusive by identifying underrepresented businesses facing language and cultural barriers that have been left out in the past.

Dennis King, executive director of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Silicon Valley, said organizations that get the big development contracts tend to be the same businesses.

“The very fact that they’re serious about a disparity study is a very significant step forward,” he said. “It’s acknowledging that there’s much more we need to do to be a fair and inclusive community.”

The lack of information translated into other languages makes it challenging for some businesses to access opportunities, King told San José Spotlight. He said the county needs to focus on communities with the greatest need and connect with them in person.

“Having ongoing communication through alternative media would be appropriate,” he said, “as well as grassroots marketing.”

Jesus Flores, president of the Latino Business Foundation Silicon Valley, said many small businesses don’t know how to access county contracts. Santa Clara County needs to simplify the way it bids out contracts, as many small businesses find it intimidating, he said. The disparity study is a positive next step.

“I am sure many small businesses will be very happy to be able to participate in county contracts,” he said. “If the county explains the process of contracting and simplifies the application process, it will have a great response.”

Gene Clark, county chief procurement officer, said following the study, staff will develop programs targeting underserved communities such as outreach events with interpreters present who can explain the contracting process.

“We recognize the need is there,” he said, “and we’re very motivated to make it happen.”

The county selected MGT Consulting for the disparity study. The firm has done more than 230 disparity studies nationwide. It was chosen from seven firms that submitted proposals after the county reached out to hundreds of companies, Clark said.

Supervisor Susan Ellenberg said the economy is driven by small businesses often owned by immigrants, people of color and women—but it’s hard for them to find out about contract opportunities. They may mistakenly think the size and scale of Santa Clara County doesn’t allow them to be vendors, she added.

“The pandemic and meetings on Zoom showed us we have to do more work to make the meetings more accessible to non-English speakers,” she said. “I imagine the same applies in our business community. If we’re not culturally competent and linguistically competent, then we’re going to leave some people out.”

Having applications and information in other languages is absolutely crucial for small businesses to know about government programs and being able to apply, said Supervisor Otto Lee. Santa Clara County plans to distribute $20 million of American Rescue Plan funds to help small businesses. He asked the county to create an outreach plan that targets ethnic groups and businesses in their languages.

Gabriela Chavez-Lopez, executive director of the Latina Coalition of Silicon Valley, said with increased COVID-related financial resources available from the state and federal government, language access matters. She said it’s important “to meet communities where they’re at.” Immigrant-owned small businesses would get the information faster in their native language, she said.

The disparity study will include outreach meetings to hear from local vendors, particularly minority groups, women, LGBTQ and disabled veteran-owned businesses.

The county wants to award more contracts to these small businesses, Clark said.

“We have to capture who these businesses are and reach out… so they can have a larger share of business with the county,” he said.

Contact Lorraine Gabbert at [email protected]

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