Portland City Council approves three initiatives to improve contracting opportunities for companies owned by people of color, women

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Raimore Construction team members give a thumbs up at the Outer Division Safety Project
A new contracting disparity study, pilot programs and a regional workforce equity agreement are designed to diversify firms doing business with the City of Portland and workers at City construction projects. Reforms were proposed in partnership with community partners, in response to a 2020 audit.

The Portland City Council today affirmed their commitment to creating equitable contracting and career opportunities for people of color and women, unanimously approving a trio of ordinances developed in partnership with community stakeholders. 

Under the new ordinances, the City of Portland will conduct its first contracting disparity study in more than a decade, pilot inclusive contracting policies and adopt a regional workforce equity agreement. These initiatives build on the City’s existing equitable contracting programs and policies to advance inclusion, remove barriers and increase opportunities. 

“For decades, these issues have gone unaddressed in any consequential way, and I’m thrilled that we have this real opportunity to significantly improve access to Black, Indigenous and people of color contractors, improve accountability and also elevate our workforce in a way that hasn’t been done before,” City Commissioner Carmen Rubio said during Wednesday’s Council meeting. 

The City Council vote represents more than 18 months of evaluation and conversation about the way the City provides business opportunities. City bureaus distributed a total of nearly $800 million to businesses and contractors during the most recent financial year, providing a pathway to invest in three of the City’s core values: fiscal responsibility, equity and anti-racism. 

In 2020, the Portland City Auditor released a report saying the City’s equity in contracting programs had mixed results due to mismanagement, flawed program design, poor communication and legal restrictions. Several months later, a Council work session kicked off a project focused on improving, reinvigorating and expanding these policies and programs. 

"We are committed to expanding opportunities, reducing barriers, and providing diverse and safe work experiences for women and people of color," said Biko Taylor, the City's chief procurement officer, who was hired last year to lead reforms to the City's procurement programs and policies. "Our program is grateful for the support of City Council and our community partners to advance that commitment."

The City assembled a project team and collaborated with the Fair Contracting Forum+ – a community advisory group – to establish the project’s scope, goals, values and priorities. In partnership with community stakeholders, the team focused on developing specific, actionable recommendations to bring to City Council. 

“Over the last year, they’ve assessed current methods, they’ve researched best practices nationally, they’ve engaged very diverse stakeholder groups to develop very thoughtful, equity-centered change for how we’re going to do procurement moving forward,” said Mayor Ted Wheeler, who oversees the Bureau of Revenue and Financial Services. “And in doing so, they’re helping us to live out our values, especially those of anti-racism and equity.” 

The three ordinances approved Wednesday significantly change the way the City invests in goods, services and public improvement projects. 

Disparity study 

City Council today authorized Portland’s first disparity in contracting study since 2009 to identify inequities and encourage innovative solutions. The study is designed to remove systemic barriers and better serve firms owned by people of color and women – and the community at large. 

The City’s Procurement Division will launch a competitive process to select a contractor who will lead the study, for a maximum of $1 million. 

Inclusive contracting policies 

The City will pilot new contracting policies designed to increase the City’s investment in firms owned by Black people, Indigenous people, people of color and women. 

For starters, the City will accept alternative certifications in addition to state certification by the Business Oregon Certification Office for Business Inclusion and Diversity. This certification, known as COBID, is currently required to participate in many equity in contracting programs. By offering additional options, the City hopes to expand ways for businesses to develop, increase capacity and win contracts. 

In addition, all City of Portland bureaus – from Transportation to Water to Parks – will establish an equitable and inclusive contracting plan to maximize their business with firms owned by people of color and women. They are required to improve invoicing procedures to ensure timely payments to firms that may struggle with access to capital, and are encouraged to directly award contracts below established dollar thresholds to COBID-certified firms. 

A dedicated inclusive contracting manager in the City’s Procurement Division will serve as the primary point of contact, both internally and externally. This equity-focused specialist will provide tools, resources and advice across bureaus, as well as engaging community partners to continue developing programs that support firms and nonprofit organizations interested in doing business with the City. 

Regional Workforce Equity Agreement 

By signing the Regional Workforce Equity Agreement, the City affirms its commitment to completing public improvement projects without labor disruptions, recruiting and retaining diverse workforces, offering strong protections for firms owned by people of color and women, and ensuring anti-harassment protections that help all workers feel safe and welcome at jobsites. 

Previously adopted by Metro and Multnomah County, this pact is one of the first multi-jurisdictional workforce agreements in the United States. It fosters collaboration and coordination across agencies to help drive change in the construction industry. 


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