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Savannah city leaders propose replacement for MWBE program

MWBE program.jpg
Savannah city leaders propose replacement for MWBE program. (Credit: Shelbey Roberts)

The City of Savannah is rethinking how it recruits local business owners for government contracts.

Right now, the city aims to reach out to groups that have historically been overlooked for work through its "Minority and Women Business Enterprise" (MWBE) program.

One of Savannah's MWBE owners is Heather Vinas.

"I love when they have the community outreach programs and I love when they bring in the partnerships that are seeking to work with the City of Savannah," said Vinas, the president and founder of Atlantic Meridian Contracting.

Vinas started her contracting business in Atlanta back in March of 2014. When it grew to Savannah, Vinas worked to land the recently completed, multi-million dollar Pooler City Hall renovation project. It's an accomplishment she says she earned because of her own merit, not her MWBE title.

"I have not been given work because of that and I don't ever want to receive work just because of that," she said.

But the city is discussing plans to scrap the MWBE program.

City manager, Rob Hernandez, says replacing it with a "Disadvantaged Business Enterprise" (DBE) program would work better.

He says the DBE program still will include historically disadvantaged groups, but is more race and gender neutral in its approach.

He says it will also give more local, small business owners a better shot at bidding for and winning city contracts.

Hernandez proposed doing a two year pilot and then reevaluating it. The idea has already been brought before city council and now city leaders are working to hear from community members.

Vinas says she just wants to make sure her business title doesn't pigeon-hole the extent of her work.

"I want to go out there and really work on any project that I feel we're qualified for that stays within our capabilities," Vinas said.