An Mlive article this week about the repaving and installation of roundabouts on Monroe Avenue and other upcoming road projects also touched on an issue of interest to the Grand Rapids business community: how West Michigan supports minority businesses.

Diversco Construction Company recently won a bid from the City of Grand Rapids to mill and repave unspecified streets south of Wealthy and east of the Grand River because it included M&S Construction, Inc. as a subcontractor on its bid.

The city gives preference for awarding bids to businesses that meet the qualifications for being a Micro-Local Business Enterprise or Veteran Owned Business. This policy has been in place since May of 1982. M&S Construction qualifies as a Micro-LBE, and as the city has made a priority of supporting minority and veteran owned businesses, they will pay more for this construction project – $45,000 than the lowest bid from Michigan Paving & Materials Co.

After the passage of Proposal 2 in 2006 which eliminated Affirmative Action in public contracting, construction work for minority-owned companies significantly decreased in the area, despite a large increase in West Michigan building. Proposal 2 sustained a number of court challenges, but was ultimately upheld by the Supreme Court in April of this year. In order to continue to help small minority, veteran, or women-owned business continue to thrive o as well as satisfy its critics and the law, the City has modified its policies over time.

In addition to the City of Grand Rapids, the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce has a Minority Business Showcase. The Michigan West Coast Chamber of Commerce in May honored Bing Goei and Melissa Fennel for their accomplishments in increasing the minority business presence in this area. Local Chambers have also partnered in publishing a directory of minority- and women-owned businesses in order to help increase general exposure to businesses looking to support these businesses in large and small ways.

Grand Rapids also offers a number of advocacy and networking organizations for minority and women business owners to join. These include: LINC, BL²END, the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and the Michigan Minority Supplier Development Council. GRABB (Grand Rapids Area Black Businesses), a startup economic development company is also available to help local entrepreneurs.

It can be a larger challenge for people from minority or other demographics to get access to capital necessary to open a small business (be it a restaurant, a commercial landscaping company, a retail outlet, or a tech startup) or compete with larger, already established businesses, but there are resources available, and the City itself is committed to helping as well.