Transcript: Secretary Buttigieg Remarks on Advancing Equitable Infrastructure Opportunities - Small Business Contracting Symposium in Philadelphia, PA
Thank you. Good morning. It is exciting for us to be here in the home of American Bandstand, I have been reminded, which is great because we are here to help make a new generation of stars in entrepreneurship and wealth building for the country.
So, I so appreciate the chance to start my day with you. I want to thank everyone at the Enterprise Center for hosting us. And I want to thank all of my fellow panelists for the discussion we are about to have. As you heard as they were introduced, my colleagues from the Department -- Portia Allen-Kyle, our Senior Advisor in the Office of Civil Rights and my colleague Shelby Scales, Director of our Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization. Della Clark, who just spoke, who I know will be providing a lot of insights here. And really looking forward to connecting our ideas with the perspective from Leslie Richards from SEPTA.
Let me also acknowledge Congressman Evans, thank you for -- there you are, just on the other side of the flag -- thank you for your leadership and for welcoming us to Philadelphia.
All of the elected and appointed leadership who care about this shared purpose, and I'm so thankful to my colleagues across the Department of Transportation and in other agencies, like the Small Business Administration and the Minority Business Development Agency, that are playing such an important role and that we are partnering with in unprecedented ways.
And I want to thank the Mid-Atlantic Small Business Transportation Resource Center, hosted here at the Enterprise Center, for the great work that they've been doing and for helping us get here today.
And to our audience, to the community of small businesses, contractors, capital providers, technical assistance experts, state and local partners, thank you so much for being here.
We are here because this is a once-in-a-lifetime, historic, generational moment of investment in America's transportation infrastructure. And we will not have another chance to get it right at this scale.
We're an administration that is absolutely committed to supporting small business, to advancing equity with every tool at our disposal -- and that includes in our contracting. And I know that the voices and the faces represented here understand this because you live it. Infrastructure projects create good-paying jobs, they create contracting opportunities that generate income for families that then makes it possible for Americans to send their kids to college, to buy homes, to build intergenerational wealth for the future.
A few months ago, I was able to meet with some of the workers who are working on new metro lines and airport improvements in Los Angeles. And a number of them were born and raised in that zip code, that same zip code as the airport, but grew up not knowing that those good paying jobs could be for them, until the right kind of programming brought them into the fold. Many of them had no family background in construction or engineering. Some of them were previously justice-involved. And now all of them had, you could feel the pride and the belonging that their work gave to them and a long-term economic trajectory; peace of mind about their future, in addition to that good paycheck.
I've engaged with business leaders like a Hispanic-owned civil engineering firm in Virginia who got help from an SBTRC, just like this one, and then went on to partner with prime contractors on a number of road construction projects so that their business grew from 28 people and $1.3 million in revenue in 2019 to 70 people and $18 million in revenue now. That is the power of the kinds of opportunities that are emerging in infrastructure.
And we've seen how when the contracts are equitably distributed, it can benefit an entire region. I often think of the historic example of how a single set of projects in Atlanta -- Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport -- created so much work that it helped to establish one of the strongest Black middle classes in the country. And that happened largely because leaders at that time made sure that Black workers and business owners had a seat at the table and a chance in the work that was being created. Now that happened a generation ago under Mayor Maynard Jackson, but when we were in Atlanta to look at the new round of improvements that they were doing, we sat down with the businesses that were involved. And many of them explained how they got their start with that opportunity a generation ago and were growing even more today.
So, right now we've got to ensure access and fairness in contracting with the thousands and thousands of projects that we're supporting through the President's Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, that the President signed just almost a year ago.
And I recognize as every business owner in this room knows, it is challenging to participate in infrastructure opportunities, especially for small disadvantaged businesses and for DBEs. From bonding requirements, lack of access to capital, challenges with workforce development, certification processes that are not exactly user-friendly or easily exchanged between states and between federal and state government… we understand that these barriers stand in the way and we're committed to working with you to tear them down.
And we acknowledge that the federal government can be a better partner than we've been in the past. We're committed to doing that.
And we are thrilled with the opportunities in front of us. That's why our Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization is hosting trainings and capacity building activities, events like the one we're at right now that are going to help more businesses succeed in your contracting efforts.
It's why we are revamping our entire DBE program rule. In fact, we just extended the public comment period to October 31st, so we are counting on your experiences and your stories. If you haven't yet weighed in in the public comments, please consider doing so because that will shape the final rule. We want to modernize that program. We want to make sure it fits the moment.
We streamlined our procurement forecast, so you have access to an easy-to-use database of contract opportunities across the Department. And it's why we've signed three new MOUs with our colleagues at the other agencies, SBA and MBDA, which will help, among other things, with access to capital and coordination on surety bonding that we know is a big issue.
It's why we created a new internal Procurement Equity Dashboard, so that decision makers can look at direct spending and make sure we're hitting our own small business goals as an agency.
And as of today, I'm proud to share that we have a target -- that was an ambitious target set under President Biden -- to expand federal contracting direct spend to 20% going to small disadvantaged businesses. And I'm proud to share with you that, as of today, we are exceeding that 20% goal and getting ready to reach for even higher heights.
We're helping states, and we're pleased to support a partnership of states that recently announced they are going to be the first movers signing the Equity Infrastructure Project Pledge, committing to making more opportunities available to DBEs. And we're emphasizing this conversation also when we are talking to businesses of all sizes. So the message that I'm offering in this room is the same as the message that is on my mind when I'm speaking to the largest primes and engineering companies in the country. It'll be the same as the message I have when I'm speaking to State DOT directors later on this week. It is something that's going to require everybody to be part of the solution.
So we know the opportunity in our hands. We also know the work ahead. And nothing would make me prouder than to run into some of the businesses represented here a few years later and hear that this moment, this season, these opportunities, transformed your ability to grow and thrive. So, remember to come up to me after those success stories become a reality when we cross paths in the future.
I won't monologue any longer because we've got a great panel ahead. But again, I'm really looking forward to this discussion and to the opportunities we can create together.