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Chicago, Cook County aim to streamline minority business effort
Applicants to one program would be able to take part in both

Wednesday, March 28, 2012
Chicago Tribune
by John Byrne

Applicants to the minority- and women-owned business programs for Chicago and Cook Countywould be able to take part in both by applying to just one under an agreement announced Tuesday.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and County Board PresidentToni Preckwinkle said the cooperation would clear up red tape and cut costs for small businesses that want to get a boost in competing for government contracts.

But it will require vigilance to stop the long-standing abuses of companies posing as minority- or women-owned to get into the programs, Preckwinkle acknowledged at the joint news conference.

"We're never going to entirely eliminate abuse because this is a human enterprise," Preckwinkle said. "Because it's a human enterprise, there will be people who try to take advantage of it."

Under the agreement, a company that the city certifies is owned by a woman or a minority would automatically qualify for the same designation when vying for Cook County government contracts, and vice versa. The cost for a three-year joint certification would be $250, compared with the current $450 fee per government, plus additional recertification costs.

Emanuel said streamlining the process for companies that now have to wait up to a year for certification will boost business, but he acknowledged there is still the potential for abuse. In January, the city reached an $11 million settlement with Allied Waste Transportation Inc., which the city accused of using minority- and women-owned businesses as "pass-through" subcontractors to hand off contracts to companies that don't qualify for the program.

"We are going to have good days. We are going to have days that are setbacks," Emanuel said. "But I think we're making the necessary reforms to bring a level of quality that had not existed before."

The County Board must sign off on the agreement. The city's ordinance does not have to be amended, so Emanuel can make the change without bringing it to the City Council.


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