School of Government assists NC MWBE Coordinators’ Network to launch Certified Economic Inclusion Officer program

Units of local government have a great deal of purchasing power. From office chairs to major construction projects, these public entities buy goods and services that total billions of dollars in expenditures each year.

Historically, there has long been a discrepancy between minority and women-owned businesses who are—in legal parlance—"ready, willing, and able” to work on public contracts, and the percentage of minority contractors that actually obtain those contracts.

“Taking actions to increase minority contractor participation in public contracting can be incredibly complicated from a legal perspective,” said faculty member and purchasing expert Connor Crews. “Since the 1980s, North Carolina law has encouraged units of local government to diversify their public contract spending through major construction and repair projects. Public entities are required to set minority participation goals on certain building construction and repair projects, and contractors must submit an affidavit stating that the goal was either met, or that a ‘good faith effort’ was made to engage with minority-owned businesses.”

Despite North Carolina legislation on the issue, disparities persist to present day. And both nationwide and in North Carolina, additional and frequent litigation addressing the constitutionally permissible scope of these programs has led to a complex legal analysis that public officials must navigate.

In 2021, the UNC School of Government assisted the North Carolina Minority and Women Business Enterprise (MWBE) Coordinators’ Network to improve education and competency in this area of procurement law. With the School’s support, the Network launched a certification program for Certified Economic Inclusion Officers, or “CEIO.”  The certification will require the completion of three School courses and the passage of an examination administered by a School faculty member who specializes in public procurement.

The program kicked off with a two-day virtual training on March 24-25, titled Minority Participation Programs and Public Contracting. This new training—one of the certification’s required courses—brought over 100 individuals to the table, including employees involved in procurement and purchasing and MWBE coordinators from entities across the state.

“The course explored what the current law is in North Carolina, why it looks the way it does, what its limitations are, and how units of local government can operate within the confines of the law,” Crews said. “We also had practitioners join us who could talk about their own programs and practices and how they implement the laws on the books.”

Guest speakers in the course included representatives from the North Carolina Office for Historically Underutilized Businesses, the North Carolina Department of Transportation’s Office of Civil Rights, and local government officials.

Through a strong foundation of coursework and collaboration, the certification aims to help public officials and private sector employees comply with North Carolina and federal constitutional law, promote opportunities for diverse businesses, and share ideas and best practices in their areas of expertise.

Officials and professionals interested in learning more about the CEIO program should visit the website of the NC MWBE Coordinators’ Network.