Thursday, February 5, 2009

Minority Report: Hampton, VA...Shameful!

The business minority report shames Hampton
David Squires | Urban Affairs
February 5, 2009

Leaders in and around Hampton seem very cautious — defensive even — in discussing a recent revelation that the city does only 1.6 percent in purchases and procurements with minority-owned companies and only 2.39 percent with women-owned companies.

The population in the city of Hampton is 48 percent African-American. Besides that, Hampton has a nationwide reputation as a Mecca for the black middle class. As one associate said to me after finding out I'd moved here nearly five years ago: "Hampton is not the South." But 1.6 percent in purchases and services in such a diverse city — those numbers scream deep South.

People just expect much better from Hampton.

Such numbers lend weight to old-line civil rights warriors such as Rudy Langford, who says one should expect no better from Hampton's leadership, whom Langford characterizes as a bunch of "lightweights." And that's just the polite version of what Langford says.


A slight pass can be given to new council members such as George Wallace and Mayor Molly Joseph Ward, who are fresh in their seats and who have vowed to improve the numbers. While he was city manager, Wallace tried to bring some of his concerns to light, he and other insiders say. As a council member, he now has a vote and can do something about it.

Wallace can also be given praise for helping to bring the data to light by pushing the disparity study in Hampton that helped to crunch the numbers.

Apparently, Hampton is one of the few — if not the lone — city in Virginia to provide such a study. Why now? "Because it wasn't anybody's priority," Wallace said.

Councilwoman Angela Leary, on the council since 2004 questioned the validity of the numbers, saying she is "having a hard time reconciling" the figures.

Paige Washington, a councilman since 1996, understands the figures all too well.

Washington said the city's problems with being equitable to minority vendors stems from the 1970s when a Virginia Supreme Court ruling struck down minority set aside programs, which earmarked certain funds for minority and female contractors.

"It just became very frustrating, and some black businesses just gave up," Washington said.

In other cities, solid leadership and creative thinking have boosted numbers.

Tony Leverette, business development director for the Northern Ohio Minority Supplier Development Council, based in Cleveland, said: "If an organization has committed themselves to minority business development, the equity doesn't start until they show some type of increase year over year."

Wallace said Hampton is working on policies to bring about such increases.

He and others also point out that the city of Hampton has done other types of business with minority-owned companies. For instance, a public-private partnership led to the building of the $13.5-million Boo Williams Sportsplex, which will be a lasting legacy for former mayor turned council member Ross A. Kearney II.

Hampton University President William R. Harvey points out that the city also donated 51/2 acres of land for the university's Proton Therapy Institute, a cancer treatment center. The city also laid out $60,000 a year for the past three years — and $50,000 for each of the three previous years — for a business incubator at HU, he said.

The incubator will help nourish some of the types of businesses that will eventually be able to do business with the city, and Harvey said it is his plans for HU to forge a long-term partnership with the city.

But with HU just a stone's throw away from City Hall, and with Harvey building hotels and other businesses all across Hampton Roads, why hasn't HU and the city of Hampton been doing more business all along? Did you know that Harvey and HU are in the hotel business? The university has financed the Hilton Garden Inn in Virginia Beach and the Marriott at City Center in Newport News.

Harvey praised Hampton for identifying its problem. " ... they are the only city to put their money where their mouth is," Harvey said, explaining that some other Hampton Roads cities had not yet decided to fund a disparity study.

"I think the mayor and the city manager and city council pretty much have their eye on the ball."

Well, if that's the case, maybe Hampton's city leaders won't miss that giant football staring them straight in the face.

New NFL Hall of Fame inductee Bruce Smith and Virginia Hall of Fame inductee William Fuller have put forth a proposal to develop land at Buckroe Beach, one of the few locations they were allowed to swim in as kids. Fuller and Smith, both Norfolk natives who are African-American, say their parents also have fond members of coming to Buckroe during the days of segregation.

Now they have a multi-phase plan to bring housing, vibrancy and jobs to that area of Hampton — and they are a gift-wrapped opportunity to show that Hampton is not "the South." For some, this might be somewhat of a Hail Mary.

Now let's sit back and watch as Hampton drops this ball.

David Squires can be reached at 247-4639, by e-mail at dsquires@dailypress.com or via blog at dailypress.com/urbanblog.

http://www.dailypress.com/news/dp-local_squires_0205feb05,0,2667413.column

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