MWBE Panel and Networking Event on Planning and Design

MWBE Panel and Networking Event Flyer by Gloria Lau

On Tuesday, May 22nd 2018 the APA NY Metro Chapter Diversity Committee (DivComm) in partnership with New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) and the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) hosted an event during NYCxDesign week featuring Minority and/or Women Owned Business Enterprises in the urban planning, design, and landscape architecture fields.


The event was meant to encourage the entry of more minority and women entrepreneurs in planning and design. Attendees that evening heard from panelists on why and how they started their own firm, the challenges and rewards of being MWBEs, and how the city and state can better advance MWBE planning and design. Following the panel, attendees were able to network with city agencies who attended the event with information on how they support minority and women entrepreneurship. Catering for the event was provided by MWBE EAT OFFBEAT, who provides delicious authentic ethnic food conceived and made by refugees in New York.

Apart from promoting networking between businesses, job-seekers, and city agencies, a major goal of the event was to help the audience understand how to start and run one’s own consulting firm and obtain MWBE certification by learning from the personal experiences of MWBE planning/ architecture/urban design firms.

MWBE Event Moderator and Panel

Speakers for the evening included:

Giovania Tiarachristie opened the evening by illuminating the serious lack of diversity in the planning, architecture, and landscape architecture professions. Larisa Ortiz and James Johnson-Piett both spoke on how their identities as people of color informed their pathway into the profession and their respective visions of urbanism. Larisa Ortiz Associates provides market based solutions for community revitalization and downtown development and Urbane Development tailors development strategies for underserved communities. Both Larisa and James founded their firms in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. Linda Barie Gumey spoke about the how her sustainable landscape architecture firm grew out of her side practice in the period between the financial crisis and today.

Takeaways for aspiring MWBEs:

  1. Individuals or groups seeking MWBE certification in NYC should take advantage of guidance provided by small business service providers such as NYC Business Solutions and the Queens Economic Development Corporation.
  2. Networking and professional development programs and events are key to the growth and success of your firm. Make sure you are a familiar face within your professional community by attending events of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, the Hispanic Federation, the American Planning Association, and agency pre qualification events.
  3. Build relationships with larger firms whom you can co, or subcontract under.
  4. MWBE certification should only be a small part of the success of your firm. Don’t expect to build your business around government contracts that come to you through MWBE certification. Always be looking for projects through your network. Customer Relations Management or CRM software can aid in this endeavor. By building relationships and finding work through your network, you’ll also ensure that you are finding projects that value the particular size and expertise of your practice

Addison Vawters and Emily Ahn Levy, DivComm

Takeaways for city agencies and larger contractors:

  1. Historically MWBE firms were locked out of competition due to outright racism and sexism. Currently, many MWBEs are also small and beginning firms meaning that relatively, they are at a competitive disadvantage in terms of experience and price due scale. In order to address both historic and current disadvantages, city agencies need to develop new models of contracting such as pairing multiple smaller firms on contracts, pairing smaller firms and larger firms more frequently, and thinking critically about the project budget to firm size ratio. These more nuanced approaches will result in more MWBE contracts, growing their expertise and firm size, ensuring a successful and diverse pool of MWBE contractors for the future.
  2. Certified MWBE firms are currently listed in the city’s online MWBE directory. Under this system MWBEs consistently report a sort of disconcerting tokenism whereby they are inundated with notices for RFPs that are mismatched with their firm’s niche. They are being contacted simply because larger firms require their partnership to secure contracts with MWBE requirements, rather than for their expertise or specialization. The directory’s search functionality requires re-imagining in order to address this issue.

NYCDOT giving valuable advice.

City Agency Representatives tabled the resource fair networking portion of the event and offered valuable program information and advice to individuals aspiring to initiate the MWBE certification process.  Representatives included NYCSBS, NYCHPD, NYCDOT, NYCDPR, NYCDDC, and the Mayor’s Office of M/WBE.



Written by Addison Vawters, DivComm Member