Dougherty County considers small business office - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Dougherty County considers small business office

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By Karen Cohilas - bio | email

ALBANY, GA (WALB) - A disparity study shows that discrimination is still a problem for minority and women owned businesses in Dougherty County. But a program the county had in place to help those businesses get government contracts isn't legal. So now, the county is focusing on developing a program to help small businesses in general get those jobs.

The county attorney says the current policy shouldn't be used because it puts the taxpayers at risk of being sued. But consultants who addressed the commission this morning say they shouldn't be complacent and should do more to help decrease the disparity.

Does discrimination still take place in Dougherty County? Yes, according to research by BBC consultants.  Dave Keen said, "At the outset, we're not seeing as many minority owned, when owned firms in this market as you might expect, given the composition of the workforce."

And there is a way to fix that disparity, using race and gender preferences to get those businesses government contracts.  Keen said, "You can, in very limited circumstances use race and gender in a program to encourage utilization of minority and women owned firms."

But the rules to use that program are very strict, and Dougherty County may not be able to prove it meets those standards, so instead, they are considering a small business office.

Keen said, "Provide the same type of assistance to all those firms and be helping not only minority and women owned firms, but do that in a way that you can defend because it's much easier in court to defend a small business program, than a program that's based on race or gender."

Commissioner Muarlene Edwards says while both are issues that affect her, she'll support what the law requires.  She said, "You can look at me and tell that I have no other choice than to be concerned about race and gender, but in the meantime, I have to represent what legally is correct."

In order to correct a disparity for businesses in Dougherty County.

But here's the catch, If Dougherty County goes to a small business format, and finds that instead of helping minority and women business owners, it's possible that a race and gender based program could be put back into place.

The cost of creating a small business office could be a problem. Consultants made their recommendations expecting the county would split the cost with other local government entities, but they are no longer involved.

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