Despite our region’s vast prosperity, far too many working families in Harris County are forced to stretch every dollar and still can’t make ends meet to cover the basics—housing, utilities, food, medicine—much less, save for a rainy day. In many of our communities, people find obstacles instead of opportunities. Many have been shut off from good jobs, workforce training, and don’t benefit from the existing economic development policies, which favor special interests instead of the hard-working people who are the backbone of our local economy.
To lead by example, Harris County has established a minimum $15-an-hour sustainable wage for its employees and now offers paid leave for employees to take care of a sick family member.
In 2019, Precinct One led the way by proposing a Harris County Department of Economic Equity and Opportunity. In 2020, we named a director, Pamela Chan, previously Associate Director of Social Policy Institute, Washington University in St. Louis, who will begin leading this department in 2021. The first-of-its-kind department will implement economic policies and initiatives focused on fair and equitable county contracting, workforce development, job placement, community benefit agreements, and workers’ rights.
One of the first initiatives this department will undertake is creating and administering a policy for Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprises (MWBEs) in Harris County. In 2020, Harris County released the results of a Disparity Study analyzing Harris County’s contracting practices around MWBEs and they were staggering. Only 9.1% of Harris County’s contract dollars go toward MWBEs, even though these firms make up 28.4% of the available market share of services that our county typically procures. And sadly these numbers are not an anomaly. We are facing a systemic problem across our region, and it is shutting competent and qualified MWBEs out of important economic opportunities. We must break down barriers to entry and ensure that Harris County offers economic opportunities that are truly open to everyone.
This program will set targets for MWBE participation in county contracting, and will provide services, technical assistance, and other resources for minority and women-led small businesses in Harris County to succeed.
Building on this vision, my colleagues also approved my request to identify how Harris County can include community workforce provisions for rebuilding multi-family housing units with federal recovery dollars. Hurricane Harvey exposed and worsened many of the inequalities that existed before it ever made landfall, and we now have an opportunity and an obligation to rebuild with fair labor and good wages. The goal is to have provisions for contractors to hire workers from low-income neighborhoods and trade/apprentice programs; provide safety training and worker benefits; and pay a sustainable wage of at least $15 an hour, among other provisions.