At Philly forum, Buttigieg hears calls to diversify federal contracting

A closeup of Pete Buttigieg

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg listens at an event in Philadelphia, on Jan. 14, 2022. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg on Thursday took part in a Philadelphia conference focused on expanding the number of Black and brown contractors in the region.

Speaking at the event, Della Clark of the Enterprise Center noted there are many subcontractors who could grow if they had proper assistance.

“I’ve been here 30 years, and in my 30 years, I’ve never seen this amount of money come out of Washington for infrastructure spending, bridges, highway, rail,” she said. “We just want to make sure that minorities are able to participate.”

Contractor Michael Brown was part of a roundtable with Buttigieg and urged the federal government to help.

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“To ensure equity and inclusion exist, we need to change the way we do procurement,” Brown told the cabinet secretary.

Buttigieg assured the group that the Biden administration hears their plea.

“We’re about to move a trillion dollars through the economy of the United States of America,” Buttigieg said. “Shame on us if, after that, we have the same number of minority businesses of the same size that we had before.”

SEPTA General Manager Leslie Richards said the transit agency is planning to expand its prime contractor database as part of the infrastructure improvement efforts.

“This is about building generational wealth. It’s about making sure people have opportunities, firms have opportunities that have not had them before. We are working in a serious way,” Richards said.

SEPTA is already working with contractors to establish more diverse primary contractors for future projects that are part of the federal funding. That includes work to electrify bus terminals for future electric and hybrid-electric plug-in buses.

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Clark said the key to converting subcontractors to prime contractors is financing and a steady stream of work.

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