- The Washington Times - Monday, February 25, 2002

ANNAPOLIS For Luis Gutierrez, one of a growing number of Hispanic businessmen in Maryland, it all comes down a question of fairness.
Maryland strives to give 10 percent of state contracts to companies owned by women. It sets a goal of 7 percent of all contracts for firms owned by blacks. But there is no goal for Hispanic businesses.
"We are a community that is growing, especially in the business arena," Mr. Gutierrez said.
"In fairness, if the African-American community and women have their own set of goals, we should have the same treatment," he said.
According to 2000 Census figures, the Hispanic population in Maryland jumped more than 82 percent in the last decade, to 228,000 people. Hispanics made up 4 percent of the state's population in 2000, up from 3 percent in the 1990 Census.
Mr. Gutierrez owns a company that provides van transportation in the Baltimore area and is active in Hispanic business groups.
At a recent meeting of the Baltimore-based Maryland Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, "all the members came to the conclusion that, yes, we need to have our own goals," Mr. Gutierrez said.
They are supporting a bill by Sen. Alex Mooney, Frederick Republican, that would establish a goal of 2 percent of state contracts for Hispanic companies.
"Hispanics are the fastest-growing population in the country. They deserve to be equally treated under the state program," said Mr. Mooney, whose mother emigrated from Cuba to escape Fidel Castro's communist regime.
"There's a little bit of discrimination going on here," he said. "This would give them an equal footing."
Mr. Mooney made his first try to set a floor for Hispanic businesses last year when the Senate was considering legislation to increase the overall goal for minority businesses from 15 percent to 25 percent of state contracts. He said that at one point he had enough green lights on the Senate voting board to pass his amendment, but some senators switched before the final vote was taken, fearful that an amendment attached late in the session might jeopardize passage of the bill.
In its current form, the law contains the 25 percent goal for all minority-owned companies, with 17 percent set aside for firms owned by women and blacks.
At a hearing this session before the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, the Governor's Office of Minority Affairs weighed in against the bill, much to Mr. Mooney's consternation.
"I couldn't believe it," he said. "I was shocked and dismayed."
Tina Jolivet, executive director, said she testified against the bill because "there is not enough evidence to support a specific sub-goal for Hispanics."
"Any changes to the existing minority business enterprise law have to be predicated on statistical evidence documenting past and present discrimination," she said.
A study conducted for the state showed that Hispanic firms fared much better than companies owned by women and blacks when it came to getting a share of state contracts. The study, submitted a year ago, compared the number of minority firms that did business for the state with the number eligible to participate. The utilization rate, called a disparity index, was 60.1 percent for women, 63.3 percent for blacks and 84 percent for Hispanics, Ms. Jolivet said.
"That shows that of the existing pool of Hispanic firms, the state is utilizing 84 percent of them," she said.
Hispanic business officials do not think the figures accurately reflect what is happening in Maryland because they think many Hispanic companies are not included in the count.
"There is very little participation that I know of and very little opportunity that I know of," said Gigi Guzman, chairman of the Maryland Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
Ms. Guzman, owner of Gitech Inc., a Baltimore-based information systems company, said most Hispanic firms are small companies with limited resources and "have a hard time dealing with the market."
She said the chamber wants to work with both political parties to improve the outreach to Hispanic companies by state government and the companies that get big state contracts and hire subcontractors.
Ms. Jolivet said Hispanic firms are included in the overall 25 percent goal, but Ms. Guzman and Mr. Gutierrez say that isn't sufficient to make state agencies and contractors seek out companies owned by Hispanics.
"It's like giving them an excuse … because they don't have a goal for us," Mr. Gutierrez said. "If you don't have … a specific goal, they are not going to make any effort to set aside any contracts."
Ms. Jolivet said the state has an active outreach program to ensure that Hispanic companies receive a fair share of state contracts.
Mr. Mooney said his bill was supported at the recent hearing by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. However, the Legislative Black Caucus has not taken a position on the bill, which remains in committee.

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