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Minority and women-owned businesses face 'flawed system' for certification

February 14, 2019 07:54 PM

WEBSTER, N.Y. (WHEC) -- The state wants more women and minority-owned contractors to be hired. But the wait for at least one business to get that classification feels like an eternity.

Jason Torres, a contractor in Webster, says his application to be a certified "minority-owned" business is sitting on a state desk somewhere "pending" approval. 

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He told News10NBC there are jobs and projects he is getting passed over for because of the delay. 

Torres showed News10NBC the box of paperwork he has, a pile of documents he's filed to get certified as a minority-owned business.

Torres is Hispanic. 

His business is commercial and residential window installation.

He says he got a fast-track certification from Buffalo and Erie County.

That program doesn't exist in Monroe County. 

But the state database shows his state application is still pending. 

News10NBC Chief Investigative Reporter Berkeley Brean: "You've contacted New York state and Empire State Development. What are they telling you?"

Jason Torres, JTCT Erectors: "Basically, all I'm getting from the state is they don't have the staff to look at any of these applications. They're still looking at applications from 2017 and we just marked a year since we applied for ours." 

At a state budget hearing Tuesday, the head of Empire State Development was asked about delays in the minority and women-owned business certifications. 

Assemblyman Robert Smullen, (R-118th District Herkimer): "What reforms is the governor proposing to streamline the program, to make it more efficient, to speed up the application approvals and increase the number of certified MWBEs particularly in upstate? 

Howard Zemsky, President CEO Empire State Development: "We are reducing the backlog. We've made the certification process faster from the time you get us all the information we need to the time we have an answer. We've brought some of the backlogs down almost 50 percent. We're hiring more staff."

Zemsky says Empire State Development approved 1,000 certifications last year. 

A study by the state in 2016 says there is a still a "disparity" when it comes to hiring most minority and women-owned sub-contractors.

The report says Governor Cuomo's goal is to have 30 percent of the contractors for public projects. Testimony at the state budget hearing said the state is at 28 percent. 

Torres says there are opportunities for his business if he can just get the certification. 

Brean: "So they're looking at applications from 2017."

Jason Torres, JTCT Erectors: "Correct." 

Brean: "You submitted your application in 2018."

Torres: "A year ago."

Brean: "And we're in 2019."

Torres: "Yep. It's a terribly flawed system. I guess what's ironic about it is even after calls to the senator's offices and the assemblymen's offices, everybody agrees that the system is messed up but no one wants to step up and do anything about it.

One of the first things News10NBC did Thursday was email Empire State Development.

News10NBC asked why it's taking so long to approve applications and why Rochester and Monroe County do not have a fast-track program like Buffalo and Erie County? 

As of the posting of this story, ESD has not replied with answers. 

Assemblymen Robert Smullen, who questioned Mr. Zemsky, is going to speak with Jason Torres Friday. 

Credits

Berkeley Brean

Copyright 2019 - WHEC-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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