COLUMN: Kris Strickler's KEEP OREGON MOVING <br><hr>Prioritizing equity spurs economic development
At its heart, I find something clear and sensible about ODOT's efforts to become more inclusive.
Only in a fully equitable economy can a community's full potential emerge.
This is why we are working to embed social equity into all we do at the Oregon Department of Transportation. When we expand opportunity and remove barriers, we grow good jobs, encourage entrepreneurship, and increase ownership.
Our public works projects support the economy through investment in local businesses and local communities. Historically, not all communities have benefitted. Low-income communities and communities of color often found themselves excluded from the benefits of our major projects. Today, unlike the past, we help small and disadvantaged businesses navigate the bureaucracy needed to land ODOT contracts, helping make economic development possible for everyone.
Small businesses are the backbone of Oregon's economy and make a big difference in a community. When they grow, they hire people and provide benefits like health care and retirement. Employees learn marketable skills, buy homes and make a better life for their families. When someone gets trained, they learn a skill for life. These employees then become role models and help younger workers start their own companies. These strong foundations can build success for years, creating intergenerational wealth and a stronger, more competitive, and equitable community.
The Disadvantaged Business Enterprise program is one way we help grow small businesses. We diversify and broaden the number of qualified companies we sign up for our workforce, and we help out some small businesses that might not have otherwise had a chance. These small businesses are from the community. They're not from another state; they're from here, right in our neighborhoods. It's all about ladders of opportunity. And when a project is spread over multiple years, it creates stability for this workforce.
Projects help companies grow. Many minority-owned or disadvantaged businesses start working with ODOT through a few subcontracts under a prime contractor. As a result, businesses gain experience, hire new employees, and learn the public contracting processes and systems necessary to move ahead as a prime contractor.
Many companies can earn certification as a disadvantaged business, including trucking companies, excavators, architects, engineering companies and electricians. And we are in a constant need of more certified firms as we seek to meet or exceed our goals.
ODOT is in the early stages of new projects throughout the Portland area. From the I-5 Rose Quarter Improvement Project to replacing the 104-year-old Interstate Bridge, we are creating a system that maximizes safety and mobility, provides various transportation options, reduces climate impacts and reflects our values on equity and inclusion. These projects will provide years of reliable growth and opportunity for these small businesses.
As we embed social equity into all we do at ODOT, we are expanding opportunities, ensuring an equitably competitive contracting environment, and cultivating a diverse workforce and business community.
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