Regardless of the current political climate, the United States government does have an interest in supporting entrepreneurship and opportunities that favor its own citizens. There are Federal and, depending on where you live, State contracting programs that encourage partnership with small and minority owned businesses. Maryland offers an aggressive program administered through the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT). It’s actually the oldest State administered program in the country, that in 2015, had procurement contracts awarding $2.3 billion to minority business owners.  Several weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend a workshop at MDOT. I was both overwhelmed by the information yet excited for the prospects of new business avenues.

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There are four types of certification: Minority Business Enterprise (MBE), Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE), Small Business Enterprise (SBE), and Airport Concessions Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (ACDBE). Eligibility for consideration requires that the business be small, that it be at least 51% owned by a socially and economically disadvantaged person(s), and that it not exceed specified net worth caps. Once you’ve successfully completed the application you become eligible for both government and private sector contracting opportunities. The application is a bit rigorous and the requirements vary depending on the type of business you operate under (i.e. C-Corp, LLC, or Partnership). Minority status falls under the following groups: women, African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Native Americans, Asian Pacific Americans, Subcontinent Asian Americans, and disabled persons.

I had the opportunity to chat with Michael D. Smith, the Public Relations and Outreach Manager for the Maryland Department of Transportation Office of Small & Minority Business Policy:

How/why is MDOT the official certification agency for MBE? What’s the connection, if any?

By statute, the Maryland General Assembly directed that the Board of Public Works designate, by regulation, one State agency to certify and decertify minority business enterprises for all State units through a single process that meets any applicable federal requirements.  Md. Code Ann., State Fin. & Proc. 14-303(b)(1)(i).  Pursuant to COMAR, the Board designated MDOT as the certification agency for the State.  As a recipient of federal funding from the United States Department Transportation, MDOT also serves as the Unified Certification Program for the federal Disadvantaged Business Enterprise program under 49 C.F.R. 26.81.    

MDOT’s role as the official certification agency for both the MBE and DBE programs, allows the State to provide uniformity in application requirements and the ease of a “one stop shop” for firms seeking certification in both programs.     

What do you find is the biggest obstacle for many business owners in the successful completion of MBE certification?

The most common cause for delay in acquiring certification is the submission of an incomplete application package.  Applicants frequently do not provide all of the required documents with their initial submission.  Before an application package can is assigned to an MBE Officer for review, it must be accompanied by all the requested supporting documents.  Therefore, attendance at the free application assistance workshops held on the first Tuesday of every month at MDOT Headquarters in Hanover, MD. can be critical.  The workshop walks potential applicants through the entire application process and provides an opportunity for applicants to have a face-to-face meeting with a certification expert to ask questions that are specific to their company.   Please visit to register.

What sets Maryland’s MBE program apart from other state programs?

Maryland’s MBE program fosters open and equal access to State procurements for small, minority- and women-owned businesses, and is a source of great pride for the State of Maryland.  Contract by contract goal-setting and the availability of waivers demonstrate our commitment to implementing a fair and flexible program. Through our comprehensive certification process, MDOT ensures that only eligible firms are certified for participation.  The Governor’s Office of Minority Affairs (GOMA) oversees the statewide implementation of the MBE Program.  For additional information on the MBE program, please visit GOMA’s website at

What do you say to those who question the point of tax and State supported minority business contracting? (i.e. entrepreneurs should “pull themselves up by their bootstraps”)

The Maryland MBE program was established to remedy racial and gender discrimination in the Maryland marketplace.  The goals of the program include ensuring non-discrimination in the award and administration of contracts and removing barriers for businesses owned by minority and women entrepreneurs.  The MBE program levels the playing field for minority- and women-owned businesses that might otherwise be unable to participate in State contracting because of discrimination.  

What’s the most rewarding “success” story you’ve come across where a small, minority owned business has grown out of their MBE?

To be certified as an MBE, a firm must be a “small business” based on size standards prescribed by the United States Small Business Administration.  One measure of success is when a firm exceeds the small business size standards.  When that occurs, a firm will graduate from the program or from a specific industry segment.    

The end goal for MBEs/DBEs/SBEs/ACDBEs is to not stay in the program but to essentially no longer qualify under the financial thresholds for eligibility. In other words, you’re making too much bank to need help! Unfortunately I’m only scratching the surface of not only Maryland’s programs but other programs that fall even under city and county jurisdictions. I really encourage those who fall under potential eligibility to join one of the monthly held workshops. At the conclusion you are even able to speak with contracting officers and ask questions specific to your business.

I’m not going to lie, the application is intense. But considering the opportunities, it’s definitely worthwhile. Endeavoring towards higher sights, it becomes so clear that regardless of industry, others have advantages of relationships and status not available to the rest. Programs like these try to level the playing field for those who before weren’t allowed to play. It’s pretty damn exciting!

For more information about Maryland’s MBE Program visit:


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