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Have you ever wondered how some local businesses can bid on state contracts and others are not eligible to bid? Are you familiar with the term Historically Underutilized Business (HUB)? NC REG, North Carolina Research & Engagement Group, LLC is working diligently to educate citizens of North Carolina about historically underutilized businesses and how businesses can become HUB certified, which would allow them opportunities to bid on various state contracts.

North Carolina Research & Engagement Group, LLC invites the citizens of Warren County to attend one of two Community Engagement Forums at Warren County Memorial Library, 119 S. Front St., Warrenton, Friday, July 23, from 6-8 p.m. or Saturday, July 24, from 10 a.m.-noon.

During the forum, the group will share findings from “The Guide,” their published comprehensive report highlighting disparities in HUB spending in purchases of goods and services, and construction spending patterns of public educational institutions (public school systems, community colleges and state universities) in North Carolina, highlighting how these patterns are affecting Warren County.

“The Guide” also depicts how equity, inclusion, access and research into the critical role public contracts can play in income generation, job creation and asset building. Other focus areas include equity in spending and procurements as well as other demographic indicators, including Medicaid/Medicare, unemployment, voter participation, and health and wealth disparities.

What is NC REG? The North Carolina Research & Engagement Group, LLC has a mission to build a research and engagement platform that educates, equips and empowers civil servant leaders, Black and other minority groups to access, process and use quality of life data to facilitate effective social and economic engagements.

I had the opportunity to discuss NC REG’s plans with two of its founding members, Dr. Forrest D. Toms and Dr. Tanya Ayscue, a native of Warren County and 1983 graduate of Warren County High School, the second graduating class. Ayscue then pursued her undergraduate degree and Ph.D. in Leadership Studies from North Carolina Agricultural & Technical University in Greensboro. Her parents, Richard and Ruby Ayscue, still reside in Warren County.

Dr. Ayscue began working under the tutelage of Dr. Toms in 2012 while she was a doctoral student, and, with others, continued the research and unrelenting work of education the masses in an effort to decrease and eliminate disparities among Black citizens, women and other minority groups.

Tanya is a business owner of TDA Services, LLC, a consulting firm in Raleigh, and Essentials Face & Body.

Dr. Ayscue said that she noticed and faced inequities during her career which propelled her to focus on women in leadership, thus writing her dissertation on “Perceived Factors That Impact Career Advancement of Black Women in Companies in the United States.” Using her research, she also created her 7-Step Model to Career Advancement/Organizational Success© 

NC REG will now focus its efforts and work with Warren County to lay the groundwork for change. Below is a brief exchange we shared about future work in Warren County.

Jones: Is the purpose of NC REG coming to our area (Warren County) to encourage citizens to start businesses?

Dr. Ayscue: Yes; but not only to start businesses, but to encourage people who already own a business to become HUB Certified businesses so that they can grow the businesses, hire more people. We want Warren County to thrive again.

Jones: How do you plan to educate the citizens on HUB?

Dr. Ayscue: We have partnerships. We are part of a coalition called the HUB Coalition, the North Carolina Department of Administration Historically Underutilized Businesses, HUB of which Valarie Jordan, also a “hometown girl” is on the board of directors and has a leadership role with the Department of Transportation, (a partner as well). We also partner with The Justice Center — Budget and Tax Center (BTC); The North Carolina Black Alliance (NCBA), NC Institute of Minority Economic Development and other partners.

The goal is to educate the citizens of Warren County. I came in all ready to present the HUB data collected in 2012 to the board of education and the county commissioners. We will not only educate the public on the data, but focus on the distribution and allocation of funds, and focus on Black- and minority-owned businesses so we can promote the movement around minority businesses right now. We want to focus on disparities that are so prevalent in minority businesses, specifically in Warren County.

Because Warren County is my hometown, I was amazed at the amount of funds available and how much of it was spent on minority businesses. I was also appalled at the fact that we only have 10 HUB Certified businesses in Warren County and that a very few of them were women-, and, specifically, Black women-owned businesses.

So, we are going to make sure citizens are aware, bring awareness. Our theme is to “Connect Communities Through Education, Engagement and Empowerment.” We are going to 1. Educate our community on disparities; 2. We plan to bring in our partners to provide additional information. For example, in the American Rescue Plan, Warren County is going to receive a significant amount of money, and we will have The Budget and Tax Center talk about those dollar and ways those dollars can be allocated in Warren County. We also plan to partner with our connecting counties to empower them.

Dr. Ayscue: Dr. Toms, would you like to add anything?

Dr. Toms: The other side is the historical disparity and the unequal distribution of money that has been given to White businesses and women’s businesses that are not certified by HUB per se. So, the HUB piece is something that’s more collective to help give you leverage to move forward with training. It does not address the core issue of boards, school systems, colleges and universities, and community colleges not responding to the 10 percent goal of distribution of resources.

The problem is when you have that number in a county like Warren with the population as high as it is, and, in a five-year period of time, out of $35 million awarded for the purchase of goods and services, Black businesses were awarded only $24,000 in Warren County with female businesses receiving $444,000 out of the $35 million. That is an organizational issue and systemic issue that the community, school system and county commissioners have to address those inequities.

I also reached out to Charla Duncan, Economic Development director of Warren County, who expressed the county’s “excitement for this educational opportunity to let our businesses know about the federal programs available to them and increasing opportunity for our historically underutilized businesses.”

The Community Engagement Forums are a great opportunity to educate and to start conversations that could possibly lead to countless opportunities and growth for the citizens of Warren County and across the state of North Carolina. The NCDOA HUB Office will be onsite to assist minority businesses with their certification package, and representatives from the NCDOT will also be on site to assist minority businesses with bidding opportunities and with bidding on HUB contracts,

Note: The North Carolina Department of Administration oversees The HUB office. According to its website, ncadmin.nc.gov, created by Executive Order on April 20, 1999, “The HUB office was established to increase the amount of goods and services acquired by state agencies from business owned and controlled by HUB firms, work towards eliminating barriers that reduce the participation of HUB firms in the marketplace, and in state government procurement and contracting, and to encourage purchasing officers and capital project coordinators within the state agencies, departments, universities and community colleges to identify and utilize HUB vendors, contractors and service providers, as well as to educate HUB firms on ‘How To Do Business’ with the State of North Carolina and to provide resources for HUB firms.”

T.A. Jones is a freelance contributor to The Warren Record, and the author of “The Parent Push, Helping Your Child Succeed Through High School and Beyond” and “A Summer With No Ice Cream.” To contact her, visit tajones.org.