Litigation department chair, James P. Youngs, discusses New York’s complex MWBE program.
“In the seven years since Stefanie Wiley became majority owner and president of Hoosick Valley Contractors, she has doubled the size of the construction business.
So, Wiley was shocked last August when she opened a letter from New York state declining her recertification as a woman-owned business enterprise because she “did not demonstrate adequate managerial experience or technical competence to operate the business.”
Wiley hired an attorney to appeal the denial. The certification remains intact until the appeal is decided, a process that could take two years or more because of a backlog of cases.
If she loses, it would be costly.
Her Rensselaer County business gets a little over half of its annual revenue from state contracts, or about $6.5 million in 2020.
“For 20 years I’ve been in this business and put my heart and soul in the business,” Wiley said. “You feel the imposter syndrome, you start to believe their words, that you’re not good enough. I’ve gone from sadness to madness to OK, how do we fix this program?”
Wiley’s experience is becoming more common.
In an apparent effort to root out fraud and abuse in the Minority and Women-owned Business Enterprise program, business owners, attorneys and others say the state has made the process so complex and onerous that it’s hurting businesses it’s trying to help.
“It looks from the outside like it’s going to be collaborative,” said Jim Youngs, head of litigation at Hancock Estabrook LLP in Syracuse. “And then you walk in and it’s adversarial. They’re digging into eligibility requirements, putting you under a microscope.” ”