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Lexington One renews commitment to minority business investment

COLUMBIA — Minority-owned businesses across South Carolina have won more than $1 million worth of work this year in one of the Midlands’ largest school districts, and officials have renewed a longstanding commitment to ensure those firms can compete for future projects.

Trustees at Lexington District One — the state’s sixth biggest by enrollment — unanimously approved extending a minority business enterprise plan designed to balance economic and community growth.

District leaders allocate one-half of 1 percent of its annual budget for procurement of supplies, services and construction to minority-owned businesses.

“Efforts will be directed towards establishing procedures designed to result in awarding contracts and subcontracts to minority businesses in order to enhance minority capital ownership, overall State economic development, and reduce dependency on the part of minorities,” the plan states.

This year, the goal was to award $657,243 to those enterprises. Through July 1, the district has invested more than $1 million in them through its competitive bidding process, Chief Operations Officer Jeff Salters said.

“We have been fortunate in the past two or three years that we’ve made that goal. In years past, we haven’t hit that goal. It’s always been our stance that we always take the lowest price,” Salters told board members on June 22.

Among its recipients: Lexington-based Pine Press, a printing and sign company that got more than $19,500 in business from the district between July 2020 and March, according to monthly expenditure reports.

Putting money into businesses as the nation emerges from a crippling economic shutdown has many minority owners on edge about their futures, a recent U.S. Chamber of Commerce survey of 500 business owners found. Fears over obtaining loans, falling further behind competitors and permanent revenue reductions all are higher among minority business owners, an August 2020 report concluded.

Alonzo Avents, who ran a janitorial franchise from 2017 through 2019 that served the district, praised its policy.

“I think it’s a great idea. Overall, I thought it was beneficial to have those opportunities,” he said. “To see that process grow and expand, I’m looking forward to it.”

Salters said minority-owned businesses aren’t given preferential treatment when bids go out, as the district always accepts the lowest offer. But staff monitor and post contracts to the state’s minority vendor list to ensure they get maximum exposure.

“Through our construction processes and so forth over the past few years, a lot of our firms are minority-owned, so that helps us meet the goal every year,” Salters said.

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