Harris County Precinct One Commissioner Rodney Ellis recently commended the Port of Houston Authority on its decision to conduct a disparity study looking at the port's procurement practices in order to ensure that minority- and women-owned businesses (MWBEs) are receiving an equitable share of contracting dollars.
"This is an important first step in ensuring that all businesses have an equal opportunity to contract with the Port of Houston," the commissioner said. "Harris County is among the most diverse communities in the country. For our entire economy to thrive, contracting opportunities with government entities, including the Port of Houston, should reflect that diversity."
Commissioner Ellis led a drive in 2018 to initiate a disparity study for the Harris County Commissioners Court. After the success of that venture, he urged METRO and the Port of Houston to conduct similar studies. METRO began its study last year, and now Port of Houston has embarked on a similar process.
Ellis has noted that Harris County is one of the most diverse metropolitan areas in the nation, but that it is simultaneously experiencing structural inequalities that affect MWBEs. A 2016 study by Rice University's Kinder Institute found that the percentage of high poverty census tracts in Harris County quadrupled in the period from 1980 to 2010, and now rests at roughly double the rate of the country at large, underscoring the economic segregation found in the county.
The disparity study will examine a variety of factors, including access to capital and credit, established networks for MWBEs, availability and historical utilization for MWBEs, and more, before potentially making recommendations allowing for race- and gender-conscious remedies.