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Businesses can apply to become certified by the Certification Office of Business Inclusion and Diversity.

Lake Oswego has made strides this year with a City Council goal to foster diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives within the city — most recently with changes to the city's solicitation and procurement processes for public contracts.

During a Dec. 7 public hearing, the council approved amendments to the Lake Oswego Public Contracting Rules relating to solicitation and awarding public contracts to Certification Office of Business Inclusion and Diversity-certified businesses.

"I think it's going to be good for the city because it's creating equitable practices and we're making good faith efforts to touch base with COBID businesses who have been historically marginalized in the past and haven't been given the same opportunities as others," Lake Oswego's Equity Program Manager Guilian del Rio said.

This certification, often referred to as COBID, would provide more equitable opportunities for minority-owned, women-owned and disabled veteran-owned firms to secure government contracts.

"COBID certifications are intended to provide state and local governments with a database of firms that are either small businesses (according to the Small Business Administration's definition) or at least 51% owned by qualifying business owners, to purchase goods, services, and public improvements," the city's August staff report said. "In doing so, the aim is to include a variety of businesses that have not been well represented in bidder solicitations on public contracting. Encouraging these businesses to submit bids/quotes is intended to strengthen the local and regional economy and to encourage more competition for public contracting."

So far, there are just over 2,000 COBID-certified firms, most of which are located in Clackamas, Washington and Multnomah counties.

Businesses would have to apply and meet state-specific criteria to receive certification.

Del Rio has been working on a way to track how many COBID-certified businesses the city solicits, as well as how many respond and which ones are selected.

"So we can really see who's being hired," del Rio said. "The main purpose is just to increase equity within the procurement and public contract process. Within the city we want to make sure we're being equitable in hiring outside contractors, architects, landscapers."

Other areas where the city might solicit a COBID-certified firm, del Rio added, are within construction, public improvement, goods and services, and janitorial contracts.

Del Rio said it will be important for the city to capture data in order to alter the procurement process and make necessary changes if needed.

Lake Oswego Mayor Joe Buck said tracking what businesses the city hires will help the city be more "cognizant" of how Lake Oswego is investing its public dollars.

"We're spending tens of millions of dollars every year for services and contracts," said Buck, adding that this could present an opportunity for emerging small businesses to "gain the foothold they need to be successful."

While Lake Oswego will be making an increased effort to hire firms with this certification, del Rio said there are a couple issues the city might encounter. For example, businesses might not be aware that they have to apply to be certified, or there may be no COBID-certified firms in Oregon for a specific service. The city still plans to exhaust all avenues before picking "the big guy," del Rio said.

The city is working to get the word out about certification to increase the roster for these businesses in the state of Oregon. The hope is to model a program after other counties and cities that already have COBID procedures within city guidelines and policies.

"We did not set any aspirational targets yet because we're just not quite sure what we're going to find," said Buck about the data.

Buck added that the city will let the process play out through the first portion of next year and will likely receive preliminary results relating to the number of COBID-certified firms hired for city services later next year.

"We do such a wide variety of things from infrastructure to programming to legal services, accounting services — it covers such a wide range of things we do and areas of expertise," Buck said. "Cities are uniquely positioned to touch a wide variety of business types … So whatever we can do as a city to support that base of small businesses both inside Lake Oswego and outside of it is really important to the council."


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