Fulton County’s development authority is taking steps to increase minority- and female-owned business participation among developments that get tax breaks. BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM AJC FILE PHOTO

Fulton board seeks more diversity from developers getting tax breaks

Fulton County’s development authority is taking steps to ensure companies that get incentives for their projects partner more frequently with women- and minority-owned businesses.

The board unanimously passed a proposal earlier this month that sets recommended participation levels for minority and female contractors. The development authority can’t require the developers to adhere to the suggestions, but board members said they would be less inclined to make public money available in the future if a good-faith effort wasn’t made.

“We’re trying to spread the economic benefit around the community,” said Michel Turpeau, a member of the nine-member authority who proposed the recommended guidelines.

The county development authority provides tax breaks via bonds to lure projects or companies they say couldn’t be built or wouldn’t come without incentives. The authority’s goal is to stimulate economic development in Fulton County.

While local governments often push for minority- and female-owned businesses to get a share of government work when they approve contracts, Turpeau said he researched the issue and believes Fulton is the first development authority in the state that is calling for specific standards. The proposal calls for minority participation in projects of 26.7 percent and female participation of 11.1 percent, as well as mandatory reporting on the participation levels.

Karen Duckett, president and CEO of the planning, design and management firm Duckett Design Group, said the effort was “honorable.” She said following the 2008 recession, many minority- and female-owned businesses have had a harder time than they had previously.

But she said what is really needed is follow-ups on the initial contract, to ensure subcontractors are getting paid, and in a timely fashion.

“We still need it,” she said of the additional efforts. “We’re not being seen as the designer or architect or contractor. What we’re being seen as is the (female-owned business) representative.”

The new guidelines go into effect July 1, and Turpeau said he hopes the setting of goals and more visible tracking will make a difference in improving inclusion. Now, he said, the combined minority- and female-owned business participation is 15 percent of all projects.

The new goals come from a study Atlanta did that worked out what businesses in the region could support. He said the capacity is there to do more.

“We can help build the middle class in other areas,” he said. “What we have is what we think is an aggressive, but reasonable, goal.”

If businesses refuse to try to reach those numbers, Turpeau said, they’re breaking the faith of what they promised to do when they were awarded incentives. He said it’s something that would be considered the next time they appear before the board seeking tax abatements.

“The development authority isn’t just about making money,” he said. “The development authority is about inclusion.”

Al Nash, the development authority’s CEO, said he thought the creation of goals was overdue.

Those numbers may change as the group gets feedback from developers and subcontractors, he said, but he hopes more consistent tracking of the data will make a difference in participation. Sarah Cash, a member of the development board, said she hoped the act of reporting zero percent participation would cause developers to think about it more clearly.

She also encouraged the board to give more weight to professional services — like architects and engineers — so all the work to qualify for minority- and female-owned participation didn’t go to groups providing landscaping or janitorial services.

Turpeau said the goals aren’t meant to be punitive, and he hopes participation will rise as awareness does.

“It’s about economic development for everyone in Fulton,” he said. “In real time, we can see what participation is.”

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