Seattle boosts efforts for more equitable WMBE contracting

November 3, 2023

The city of Seattle is renewing its focus to increase opportunities for women- and minority-owned businesses (WMBEs) to contract with the city.

Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell signed an executive order Nov. 1 announcing how the city will analyze existing efforts to ensure WMBEs have equal opportunities to bid for city contracts in purchasing, consulting and construction work.

While the city has an existing program aimed at correcting the underrepresentation of WMBEs in city spending, the new order lists six priorities for increasing equity in the contracting process:

  • Re-establish the WMBE Advisory Committee, which began in 2019, to continue engaging with the WMBE community. This includes creating strategies to reach minority-owned companies.
  • Expand contracting equity by regularly holding engagement opportunities for WMBEs. The city would focus on connecting with Black-owned and other minority-owned businesses.
  • Provide resources and support by hiring consultants to assist WMBEs who want to work with the city.
  • Increase accountability and transparency in the WMBE contracting process by implementing a citywide disparity study and analyzing whether WMBEs have equal access to contract opportunities.
  • Improve city policies and practices and evaluate whether any changes had an impact on WMBEs. The city would also develop training for staff who work in procurement to understand WMBE policies.
  • Explore options to expand contracting equity to other underrepresented communities, such as those in the LGTBQ, veteran and immigrant communities.

Minority residents make up about 38% of the city’s population, while about 14% of the city’s spending went toward minority-owned businesses in 2022. Roughly one-quarter of the city’s $900 million in expenses on goods and services went toward consulting services and public-works contracts with WMBEs that same year.

In 2022, Seattle surpassed its goods and services purchasing goal of 21% by spending 26%, or $110.7 million, with WMBEs, according to the city’s 2022 Women & Minority-Owned Business Annual Report. That year, the city met its goal to award 27% of consulting work to WMBEs. For 2023, the city increased its purchasing goal to 22%.

The WMBE Advisory Committee issued a 2022 report with eight recommendations. These included establishing an oversight task force to hear WMBE complaints, having outreach for every step of the procurement process and implementing metrics to hold the city accountable on its WMBE performance.

Seattle additionally received a two-year $1 million grant from the Bloomberg Center for Public Innovation to overhaul its procurement process with the goal of making it more accessible.

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