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State takes action after News10NBC exposes delays in business applications

February 15, 2019 06:25 PM

NEW YORK (WHEC) -- Time is money. 

News10NBC is exposing the problem involving the amount of time it takes New York state to process and approve applications for businesses to become minority-owned or women-owned certified.

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We're also showing how our reporting is making a difference. 

Certifying minority and women-owned businesses is state policy. It's what the governor wants and it helps those companies get business with public projects.

But not if the state takes years to process the applications, and that's what's happening to the companies News10NBC spoke to. 

Pamela Fenlon is the CEO of Layer 3 Technologies. It's a hardware and software company that helps schools and governments with computer technology.

Years ago, Fenlon applied to be certified as a woman-owned business. 

News10NBC Cheif Investigative Reporter Berekely Brean: "What was that experience like?"

Pamela Fenlon, CEO Layer 3 Technologies: "Well, in the beginning, it took us almost two years to get it. It was really a grueling experience if I must say."

She finally had to hire a lawyer. Now she's trying to renew her certification. She applied for that two years ago. 

Brean: "What's the holdup?"

Fenlon: "I have no idea."

Brean: "Has anyone from the state talked to you and explained to you what the problem is?"

Fenlon: "No, I can't get them to explain what the problem is. They just said there are a lot of applications, we're on the list."

On Tuesday, the CEO of Empire State Development was questioned on these delays during a budget hearing with lawmakers.

Assemblyman Robert Smullen from central New York asked what's being done to fix the process. 

Part of CEO Howard Zemsky's answer? 

"We're hiring more staff," he said. 

Zemsky did tell Assemblyman Smullen and other lawmakers on the committee they cut the backlog of applications by 50 percent, certified 1,000 businesses last year and are streamlining the process. 

On Thursday, News10NBC told you about Jason Torres, a window contractor in Webster. He applied for minority-owned certification more than a year ago. 

"It's a terribly flawed system," he said. "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."

On Friday, News10NBC received the following statement from Assemblyman Smullen: 

"I agree with Jason Torres that the system we have in place right now for the MWBE certification process is 'terribly flawed.' When we have a state-funded program backlogged nearly two years in their approval process, it blocks development and economic growth in upstate New York. One of their stated goals is to "encourage and assist state agencies to award a fair share of contracts to MWBEs," but if they're so far behind, how are they upholding this promise? Mr. Torres displayed a box of paperwork he had to fill out just to apply for the program... This is a clear example of the hurdles and red tape New York business owners have to go through just to get a state contract. I want to work with the leadership to make sure people like Mr. Torres receive the contracts they deserve."

"The opportunities are there but we're waiting for the state to finally look at our application and say 'you're good to go,'" Torres said. 
 
Contractors in New York state are incentivized to work with minority and women-owned businesses. 

Fenlon: "They won't deal with us without it. It means a lot because it would mean a loss of business. And that means a lot to a small company."

We have a list of questions for Empire State Development. 

  • An easy one like -- how many certifications are there? 
  • A tough one like -- how do you explain the delays? 

ESD is still dealing with the Amazon fallout.

They promised News10NBC they're working on this and they're going to get us answers next week. 

They didn't ignore our story because on Friday, for the first time in 12 months, Jason Torres says he was contacted by the state who told him his application is getting reviewed. 

We'll track what it does with Pamela Fenlon and her company. 

Credits

Berkeley Brean

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

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