Oakland, CA – Today, the City of Oakland announced the launch of two new business support programs funded by a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Agency (EDA).
Half of the funds will support a training program for small low-income construction contractors with the balance supporting technical assistance for small low-income businesses, including those that are BIPOC-owned. These programs anticipate delivering services to more than 1,110 small businesses and up to 50 small construction contractors over the next two years. The City has engaged three trusted community partners with the technical expertise and cultural and linguistic competency to assist Oakland’s diverse small business community.
“Through the minority contractor support program, Oakland will reduce barriers that have historically prevented small BIPOC-owned contractors from successful bids on City RFPs,” said Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf. “Removing these systemic barriers will result in more equitable outcomes while leveraging public contracting dollars to help our diverse business community grow and thrive.”
Support for Small Low-Income Contractors, Including BIPOC-owned Construction Firms
To help small low-income contractors, including those that are BIPOC-owned, bid on and win City contracts, Merriwether & Williams Insurance Services will provide technical support for small low-income construction firms, including those that are BIPOC-owned. One-on-one business assistance and training will prepare contractors to navigate the requirements of construction contracts for City Capital Improvement Projects. Focus areas in the public contracting process will include pre-qualification, certification with City social policies, online bidding, bonding and insurance requirements, and labor reporting requirements.
Merriwether & Williams will work with representatives from the departments of Workplace and Employment Standards, Transportation, Public Works, and Economic & Workforce Development to identify specific training needs. Among the challenges to be addressed are bonding access and cash flow bridge financing.
Contractors interested in receiving support should contact Merriwether & Williams at (510) 740-6922 or email CTAP@imwis.com.
Technical Assistance Support for Small Low-Income Businesses, Including BIPOC-owned Small Businesses
To advance the City’s equitable economic development and recovery goals, staff from partner organizations – The Unity Council and Black Cultural Zone CDC – will conduct in-person outreach to small low-income businesses, including BIPOC-owned small businesses, along low-income commercial corridors from East to West Oakland including 30 census tracts designated as Opportunity Zones, and the “Better Neighborhoods, Same Neighbors” project area in East Oakland where 51% of the area is within the top 5% of disadvantaged communities in California.
In addition to providing financial, workforce and tech resources, the outreach teams will identify unmet business training needs. The partners anticipate providing 12 new workshops and trainings per year.
Businesses interested in receiving support should contact Karen Gordon Brown with the Black Cultural Zone at (510) 470-0183 or email@example.com; or Mayra Chavez with The Unity Council at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit unitycouncil.org/biz.
Beyond the added support to businesses, the two partners will benefit from trainings that build organizational capacity.
“The EDA Grant advances our goals of support and expansion of local small businesses to retain and create good jobs in Oakland,” said Alexa Jeffress, Director of the City’s Economic & Workforce Development Department.
About the EDA Grant
City staff from the Economic & Workforce Development Department and Public Works Department crafted a grant proposal in response to the EDA’s 2020 Economic Adjustment Assistance Program competitive grant, with The Unity Council and Black Cultural Zone CDC as co-applicants. After a multi-step federal review, the Oakland proposal was awarded $1 million in funding in July 2021. A competitive RFP process in late 2021 led to the selection of Merriwether & Williams as the community partner for the minority contractor support program. In January 2022, City Council passed a Resolution accepting and appropriating the grant award. Contract negotiation and execution concluded last month.
The mandated match for the EDA grant funding is being met by the Black Cultural Zone through the “Better Neighborhoods, Same Neighbors” Transformative Climate Communities (TCC) grant that funds business assistance in far East Oakland and by in-kind support from The Unity Council and City of Oakland.
Ongoing Business Support Resources
To keep Oakland businesses informed of resources to help them recover from the pandemic and grow, the City sends out periodic business updates. Businesses are encouraged to subscribe to receive these updates.
The Neighborhood Business Assistance program allows entrepreneurs and business owners to schedule 1-on-1 appointments with City support staff at seven different locations throughout Oakland. Appointments can be booked online at oaklandca.gov/BizHelp or by calling (510) 238-7398.
About Merriwether & Williams Insurance Services
For over the past 25 years, Merriwether & Williams has worked to remove barriers for contractors, enabling small, minority, women and disabled veteran-owned companies to bid on over $1.05 billion in public works construction while providing over $20 million in contract savings to their sponsor-partners. Participating contractors have successfully completed work with a less than 1% default rate, compared with a much higher construction industry average.
About The Unity Council
The Unity Council promotes social equity and improves the quality of life by building vibrant communities where everyone can work, learn and thrive. Business assistance is provided at the Business Assistance Center in the Fruitvale Transit Village and woven with offerings and resources from the EDA grant, Onward Oakland program and various partners.
About the Black Cultural Zone Community Development Corporation
The mission of the Black Cultural Zone CDC is to unapologetically center Black arts, culture and economics as they collectively design, resource, transform and build collective power for our communities. The long-term impact of the BCZ CDC’s Vision and Mission is the disruption of the community and economic development model where only limited benefits have accrued to the most vulnerable communities in our country, particularly legacy Black communities like East Oakland.
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