Building Bridges

County seeks to support more women- and minority-owned businesses

Jennifer Rigby (left) and Tufanna Bradley at Pine Valley Library, designed by Vines Architecture, a minority-owned business.

It’s said that a rising tide lifts all boats. But that adage assumes that all boats are in the water. The truth is that many minority- and women-owned “boats” in New Hanover County are stuck on the shore, out of reach of that rising tide.

To address the reality that many small businesses owned by women and minorities are missing out on opportunities to sell their goods or services to local government, the county has updated its Minority & Women Business Enterprise (MWBE) policy.

Starting in the 2020-21 fiscal year, which begins July 1 of this year, the county will seek to spend at least 10% of its purchasing dollars with MWBEs, says TUFANNA BRADLEY, New Hanover’s assistant county manager.

That is the state goal, and the county wants to match it.

The purchasing goal applies to everything from paper clips to construction work.

“This really is about realizing the county’s vision. We are a vibrant, prosperous, diverse community, and we want to ensure that continues for generations,” says JENNIFER RIGBY, the county’s strategy and policy coordinator.

For the county to grow, prosperity must be shared broadly, she explains.

In the 2018-19 fiscal year – the most recent for which figures are available, New Hanover County spent roughly $79,250,000 for goods and services. Of that, about 8% or $6,430,000, went to MWBEs, according to county manager Chris Coudriet.

Most of those vendors were women, and of those, most were white, says Bradley.

She adds that it’s important for the county to determine if there are enough minority-owned businesses to allow New Hanover to reach its new goal, and to encourage any potential vendors to register with the county.

Rigby agrees that it’s essential that the county make a strong effort at outreach.

“First, we want to make sure (woman and minority vendors) are in our system,” RIGBY says. “We have almost 400 minority- and women-owned businesses in our system, which has grown by about 11% since we started (the registry).”

“The second thing is to direct county employees to this database; make sure our employees are using that when they want to purchase goods or services.”

Rigby and Bradley solicit MWBE registration when they attend events. Bradley attends the monthly meetings of the African American Business Council, which is part of the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce. She makes presentations to new MWBE startups or MWBEs new to the area.

The county achieving that 10% vendor goal would have a huge positive impact on the African American community here, says Girard Newkirk, a minority business owner himself.

Newkirk, CEO and founder of KWHCoin, a digital currency that converts renewable distributed energy resources to digital tokens on a unique blockchain, is working with the African American Business Council on policy strategy.

Newkirk, a Pender County native who founded and grew his tech business in California before returning here, has experienced the difficulty some minority-owned tech businesses have in finding customers.

Newkirk is also involved in the development of Genesis Block, an office, co-working, and cultural arts center that will open in April at 2 S. Front St. downtown. This center will enhance the county’s outreach efforts to minority- and women-owned businesses and, he says, will pair these small business owners with owners of established businesses who can mentor them.

Other partners in New Hanover’s efforts to boost the number of MWBEs it contracts with include the University of North Carolina Wilmington, the city of Wilmington, and the state of North Carolina.

“We want these businesses to go beyond what we require (of vendors) and get additional certification so they can compete for state contracts and then for federal contracts,” Bradley says.

To learn more about New Hanover County’s MWBE program and to register, click here.

To view more of photographer Michael Cline Spencer’s work, go to

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Categories: Features