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Saturday, February 24, 2024

Gainesville disparity study seeks to create opportunities for local businesses

The study began June 7 and will finish in August 2022 with potential recommended changes

The City of Gainesville is supporting a study that would create more equity for local businesses by identifying discrimination in the city’s current marketplace.

Atlanta-based law firm Griffin & Strong is conducting the disparity study in the city, CEO Rodney K. Strong said. The firm will determine if Gainesville is experiencing discrimination within its marketplace, which is made up of the city’s businesses. 

“I’m in this to see equitable opportunities created,” Strong said.

The study looks at past and current disparities by focusing on the city’s economic investments and who the city does business with to ensure both minority- and women-owned businesses are included. 

Past discrimination includes instances where businesses may be disadvantaged due to historical effects of other businesses being favored, Strong said. An example of this includes current impoverished neighborhoods that still suffer from effects of Black-owned businesses being refused loans 50 years ago, Strong said.

If these types of inequity and inequality are present, then the marketplace isn’t equitable.

The history of disparity studies goes back toward the end of the Civil Rights Movement in 1967 to the creation of affirmative action programs. These ensured that Black people who had previously been excluded from certain spaces would now be included, Strong said.

This eventually led to law firms specializing in studying disparities, such as Griffin & Strong.

To conduct a disparity study, researchers will collect data on where the city is spending its money geographically, as well as collecting information on minority- and women-owned local businesses. They will also collect anecdotal evidence from local businesses to analyze people’s experiences doing business with Gainesville.

Local businesses can provide anecdotal evidence through surveys, interviews or the firm’s website created specifically for Gainesville, Strong said.

Not only does anecdotal evidence help the study, it helps businesses get involved with their communities, he said. This helps businesses create beneficial relationships they wouldn’t have otherwise.

“It’s a necessary component to ensuring that there is a level playing field for businesses in the marketplace in Gainesville,” Strong said.

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The city decided to do the disparity study after looking at the city’s finances, said Sylvia Warren, equal opportunity manager of Gainesville’s Office of Equity and Inclusion.

The city already has a small business program that provides opportunities for businesses to collaborate with the city’s departments. It’s not an affirmative action program, and the study will determine if the program helps women- and minority-owned businesses.

The study began June 7 and will finish in August of 2022, Senior Director of consulting and Gainesville’s project manager Michele Clark Jenkins said.

The firm’s researchers are in the process of collecting data and will be finished mid-November, Jenkins said. They’ve also studied Gainesville’s policies and interviewed staff, and they are starting interviews. They’ve also had informational meetings in August with community members to educate them about the study and how to get involved.

“One of the biggest things that really was a bright spot for us so far is that we had a very good turnout to our informational meeting,” Jenkins said. “What that tells us is that there are a lot of firms in the marketplace who are really interested in what it is we’re doing.”

After statistical analyses on the data, Griffin & Strong will determine whether the city  discriminates against minority-owned businesses or if business are dealing with the effects of past discrimination, Strong said. Then, the firm will recommend changes ranging from legislation to projects the city should implement.

Changes could include outreach support services, small business opportunities or other ideas, but the recommendations will be uniquely tailored to the city and findings, Strong said.

Strong said this gives historically underserved communities a chance to be part of a marketplace that has previously excluded them. More businesses create more competition in a marketplace, he said, which will help drive down prices and boost the local economy.

“We think it's going to create a more robust economy we think everybody's going to benefit from,” Strong said. “That's why it's a win-win situation.”

Contact Meghan at Follow her on Twitter @meggmcglone.

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Meghan McGlone

Meghan McGlone is a UF junior majoring in journalism and English, and this year she’s the City and County Commission reporter. In past years, she’s served as the University Editor, the Student Government reporter, and other positions. Her favorite past time is eating gummy worms and reading a good book.

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