In Portland, Most Funds for Minority Businesses Go to…White Men

Friday, January 08, 2010

In 1997, the city of Portland, Oregon, launched a program to award more construction contracts to minority-owned businesses. Twelve years later, an audit of the Sheltered Market Program found that the biggest recipients were white men, who received 51% of contracts. Second place went to white women (25%), followed by African Americans (11%) and Latinos (9%). In FY 2008-2009, 60% of contracts went to white men.

Mayor Sam Adams, who championed the program as chief of staff to then-Mayor Vera Katz, did not express shock or disappointment at the news of the audit’s findings. Instead, he said the “results show improvement is possible” and that city officials need to keep working at the problem.
-Noel Brinkerhoff
Sheltered Market Program: Need for Clearer Focus and Astronger Management (Office of the City Auditor, Portland, Oregon) (pdf)


Jeff Y 12 years ago
Actually, the city is doing well with this program when you consider the demographics of Portland. As someone with a background in this subject, I'd estimate that at least 99.9% of the construction businesses (all but four out of about 5,000 in the city) are owned by white men. With this program, half the contracts went to minority and women. Improvement is possible, but this is progress.
Roger Clegg 12 years ago
Why do race, ethnicity, and sex need to be considered at all in deciding who gets awarded a contract, or who ought to get special training to become a city contractor? It's fine to make sure contracting programs are open to all, that bidding opportunities are widely publicized beforehand, and that no one gets discriminated against because of skin color, national origin, or sex. But that means no preferences because of skin color, etc. either--whether it's labeled a "set-aside," a "quota," or a "goal," since they all end up amounting to the same thing. Such discrimination is unfair and divisive; it costs the taxpayers money to award a contract to someone other than the lowest bidder; and it's almost always illegal—indeed, unconstitutional—to boot (see 42 U.S.C. section 1981 and comments we submitted to the Colorado DOT here: ). Those who insist on engaging in such discrimination deserve to be sued, and they will lose.

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