JONNEL DORIS DISCUSSES CHALLENGES, GOALS & KEY PRINCIPLES
BY BENJAMIN FANG
On May 11, Mayor Bill de Blasio appointed Jonnel Doris as the new commissioner of the Department of Small Business Services (SBS). Doris, who previously served as the director of the Mayor’s Office of Minority and Women Owned Enterprises (MWBEs), succeeds Gregg Bishop, who will now serve as the mayor’s senior advisor for small business COVID-19 recovery.
The new SBS commissioner said he’s excited about the opportunity to help New York City come back from the coronavirus crisis and economic fallout. He said he’s looking forward to working with small businesses, advocates and elected officials to take on the challenges ahead.
“Part of what we’ve been able to do so far is begin to increase our engagement,” Doris said, “and really get a clear picture of what it means to now think about recovery.”
Doris said it’s “very sobering” to take on this new role during the current crisis, but it makes the work that much more important, significant and relevant.
“It is a challenge, but we’re up to the challenge,” he added. “We’re embracing it, and we will continue to do so.”
LEADING MWBE CHARGE
In September 2016, Doris was appointed as the city’s first senior advisor and director of the Mayor’s Office of MWBEs. He was tasked with addressing the disparity in city contracts awarded to minority and women-owned businesses.
The de Blasio administration set three goals for the office: award $25 billion to MWBEs by 2025, certify 9,000 MWBEs by 2019, and award 30 percent of the value of all city contracts to MWBEs by 2021. According to Doris, the city has already awarded $14.6 billion to MWBEs through the OneNYC program, putting it ahead of schedule.
The MWBE utilization rate more than tripled under Doris’ watch. When he started the position, the city was hovering around 8 percent, he said. In the first two quarters of this fiscal year, the city hit the 30 percent mark before the COVID-19 crisis hit. The city now has close to 9,800 firms certified as minority or women-owned businesses, surpassing the goal set by the mayor.
“We exceeded all of our targets,” he said. Doris said the experience he gained at his former post will help in his new role, given the correlation between those who have been hit hardest by the virus “in a very disproportionate way” and those who own MWBE firms.
He not only understands how those businesses operate and the challenges they face, but will bring them to the center of the city’s recovery efforts. After all, Doris said, MWBEs are small businesses, too. They encounter the same challenges as any other small business, including access to capital, competing for talent and finding opportunities.
Coming into this new role, Doris said the mayor gave him a “very precise” charge to save as many small businesses as possible. Right now, SBS is evaluating its programs, services, strategies and advocacy to meet that goal.