North Carolina should commit to strategies that ensure firms owned by people of color and women thrive in order to infuse the state’s economy with newfound vigor.

North Carolina is a state with a richly diverse population, which presents the opportunity to build a vibrant and inclusive economy. Recognizing this, the Office of Historically Underutilized Business (HUB) was created in 1999 by Governor Jim Hunt to provide an intentional strategy to incorporate business diversity into the state’s procurement and contracting opportunities.

The office offers certification and support to firms defined to be “at least 51 percent owned by one or more minority persons or socially and economically disadvantaged individuals.” For nearly 20 years, the office has promoted “economic opportunities for historically underutilized businesses in state government contracting and procurement” that has fostered growth and profitability.

State entities, particularly public school systems and community colleges, have not taken full  advantage of opportunities to engage and employ historically underutilized businesses during the past two decades.

This is disappointing, given the local nature and broad coverage of these systems across North Carolina. While HUB certification rates have been less than desired, there are 3,247 HUB entities ready to do business with the state of North Carolina. That is an average of about 32 per county, yet the utilization rates in many communities do not reflect these prospects.

Engaging directly with HUB owners has revealed trends that inhibit their ability to be more  competitive in the procurement process. They state that persistent undercapitalization and network exclusion lock their enterprises in astate of competitive disadvantage, even with the support of the Office of Historically Underutilized Business.

Focused and intentional local policy directed toward 1) incorporating HUBs in to capital projects (baseball stadiums, transit hubs, park revitalizations, etc.), 2) establishing local HUB utilization goals, and 3) leveraging/ creating a collaboration with community foundations and banks to provide capital, would go a long way in helping established firms of color and women grow and plant the seeds for new ones to emerge.