The City’s MWEBE (Minority, Women and Evanston Business Enterprise) program strives to provide Evanston-based, minority- and women-owned businesses with opportunities in bidding on City projects or working as subcontractors on major projects. For most projects, bidders are required to demonstrate that 20% of the project work goes to MWEBE-qualified contractors or suppliers.

Similarly, the Local Employment Program encourages contractors working on City projects to hire Evanston residents for as many temporary or permanent positions as possible.

The idea is to keep City dollars local so the economic impact of a City project can resonate throughout the entire community as much as possible. The program also aims to address and correct decades of discrimination against minorities and women in the City.

Assistant City Manager Marty Lyons said that in 2014 the City’s MWEBE Committee “hit its stride,” making significant progress on each of the “top three issues that the committee tackled.”

First, the committee set a goal of reaching 25% MWEBE participation in City projects. The City exceeded that goal, Mr. Lyons said, reaching 28% compliance by engaging 23 minority-owned businesses, 19 women-owned businesses, 22 Evanston-based business, and three disadvantaged-owned businesses.

Second, the committee recommended changes to the Local Employment Program that City Council adopted, shifting the penalty for noncompliance away from a simple $100 per day fine, which a number of contractors were building into their project cost and gladly paying, to a 1% of the total project value penalty. The project value penalty is much more difficult to simply pay and move on.

Third, the City combed through every one of its contracts to identify compliant and noncompliant contractors. As a result, the City “received – we didn’t really want to receive it but we did receive – over $20,000 in fines for noncompliance,” said Mr. Lyons. He particularly thanked City employee Shannon Johnson, who investigated the contracts. The fines went into a reserve account for basic workforce development.

Alderman Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, said “This year, out of all the years of chairing [the MWEBE Committee], has been the most rewarding, to see the progress made.” In the future, he said, the Committee planned on “working closely with Northwestern, Districts 65 and 202. … Are they keeping track of their local spends?” If the City can work with those entities to encourage more local hiring, he said, “we can make a significant impact for the community.”

Not everyone is thrilled with the Committee’s progress. Bennett Johnson, who represents a group of local contractors, told the RoundTable that there had been virtually no improvement in local hiring as far as his group could see. “There has been no formal communication between the committee and our group,” he said, though he acknowledged at least one meeting. “Our problem with a lot of those contractors is most of our guys are nonunion,” he said, and the contractors require union subcontractors.

Ald. Braithwaite, responding to Mr. Johnson, said the problem is often that local contractors simply “don’t apply for Evanston projects.” The City has tried to address the problem by hosting procurement seminars.

The City held “Procurement 101” seminars in 2014 and 2015, inviting all local businesses seeking to do business with the City, Rotary International, the school districts, and the hospitals to the Civic Center to learn the application processes for projects with those public and non-profit entities.

“It seems as if [in prior years] we were talking more in the negative, and it’s really refreshing to see that we’ve been able to make the difference doing things like education, outreach and workforce development,” said Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward. “More the carrots than the sticks. … It’s easier when we provide resources and not just threaten.”

City Council will have the ultimate authority to increase fines or make other changes to the program.