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Cook County Disparity Study

Cook County (“the County”) is conducting a disparity study for its Minority- and Women-Owned Business Enterprise (“M/WBE”) Program. The study seeks to ensure that minority-owned business enterprises (“MBEs”) and women-owned business enterprises (“WBEs”) have equal access to contracting opportunities and that the County’s current program remains legally defensible and administratively successful.

A disparity study involves compilation of evidence to determine whether the County has a strong basis continue to implement race- and gender-conscious contracting remedies and, if so, how to narrowly tailor its program. The study will determine the County’s utilization of M/WBEs and the availability of M/WBEs as a percentage of all firms in the market area and relevant industries.  The study will analyze whether there are disparities, if any, between the availability of M/WBEs and their utilization on County contracts and related subcontracts, and throughout the Cook County area economy as a whole.

The study will further examine factors necessary for entrepreneurial success, such as access to business capital, bonding, networks, suppliers and other resources. It will also gather anecdotal evidence of any continuing effects of past or present race and sex discrimination, and the impact of the current M/WBE program.  Another important component is a review of the County’s current M/WBE program.  Based on these findings, the study will make recommendations for future initiatives and enhancements.

The contract for this study has been awarded to Colette Holt & Associates (“CHA”), a Chicago-based nationally recognized expert team on disparity studies and M/WBE programs.  The firm has worked with the County for many years and conducted the last two disparity studies.  CHA is partnering with Sandi Llano & Associates, Inc., a recognized and respected leader in the Chicago area on supplier diversity programs.   Both Ms. Holt and Ms. Llano are very familiar with Cook County’s contracting community and the County’s policies and procedures.

How can you be involved? The participation of stakeholders and business owners is critical to the study’s outcomes in two important ways.

First, the study team will contact businesses to confirm information on specific contracts and/or to receive additional contract information that is currently not available or accessible to the County.  Like most government agencies, because the County has not collected all of the type of specialized contracting records necessary for the study the consultant must rely on prime firms to supplement missing data. This information is critical to developing an accurate analysis of the utilization of M/WBEs on County projects. With the support and assistance of business owners, the study will present a complete picture of the County’s contracting activities. Some firms will be contacted to provide such data. CHA will work with the firms to make the process as easy as possible.

Second, CHA will gather qualitative data relevant to the study.  We will administer a comprehensive electronic survey to collect anecdotal information. The survey will elicit firms’ experiences and insights in doing business with the County, with the M/WBE program and barriers to obtaining work in the greater Cook County economy.  We will also conduct follow up business owner small group interviews.  The information generated from these data collection methods will be an important component of the analysis of whether the M/WBE program remains necessary to level the playing field and to ensure the program is narrowly tailored. To learn about sessions pertinent to your business, please email CHA at We also welcome written submissions or other evidence.

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