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Hispanic Contractors Association Conference

Remarks as prepared for delivery by Secretary Mel Martinez*

Washington, D.C.
Wednesday, February 26, 2003

Good morning! Welcome to our nation's capital.

Thank you kindly for the invitation. It is great to be part of the U.S. Hispanic Contractors Association's annual conference… and to be here in the company of so many friends.

And thank you Frank (Anton) for that very kind introduction.

I appreciate the opportunity to come and speak with you about the key issues facing Hispanic builders and contractors in today's highly competitive marketplace. And let me say, your impact on the construction industry cannot be emphasized enough!

Hispanic contractors are creating new businesses and growing established companies at an amazing rate. This growth has helped to fuel the overall development of the construction and housing industries, not to mention the overall growth of America's economy. Your hard work is creating quality jobs for Americans and it helping lead this country's economic recovery.

President Bush asked me to bring you his best wishes and deepest thanks. I have been with the President several times in recent weeks, and I can tell you that he has a deep appreciation for the contributions that you and your colleagues are making to this nation. I'm proud of your progress.

The President is deeply committed to improving the quality of life of Hispanics in this country. As you know, he has lived and worked closely with the Hispanic people as governor of Texas, and has surrounded himself with Hispanics in this Administration.

President Bush has an ambitious and positive agenda for leading this nation and for empowering the Hispanic community, and this Administration is committed to extending opportunity and freedom throughout this great land. And we believe that opportunity and liberty is the right of every person, and the future of every nation.

In fact, right after this, I am going to be joining the President, Al Gonzalez and Hector Barreto over at the White House to talk about Miguel Estrada and the injustice that is being done to this fine man.

But first let me tell you that the Administration applauds the leadership that Frank (Fuentes) and the USHCA membership have provided during this political ordeal.

Mr. Estrada is the epitome of the American Dream - that dream which propels us to work hard every day, to provide for our families, to better our communities and to strive for great things. He is a role model for our children and living proof that in America, anything is possible.

I can personally identify with Mr. Estrada's desire to serve his country and his willingness to give something back to a nation that has blessed him with opportunity. And I know that you can too.

For Hispanics and other immigrants, the opportunity to serve this great nation in public office is part of their American Dream. And this is possible, because in this country, no matter what your race, ethnicity or religion, if you work hard and play by the rules, all things are possible.

As a practicing lawyer of 25 years, I do not think that Hispanic nominees should be held up to some special litmus test when nominated for the bench.
Unfortunately, that seems to be taking place in the Estrada case.

I do not understand what Mr. Estrada's opponents have to fear in letting his nomination come to a vote. This is a land of opportunity, and we should never stand in the way of qualified individuals willing to commit to public service.

If unquestionable ethics, outstanding academic credentials and superior professional qualifications are not enough for a Hispanic to qualify for the bench, then a great number of our citizens will lose confidence in the integrity of the Senate confirmation process and our very own judicial system.

Like most of you, I strongly urge the obstructionists in the U.S. Senate to end this filibuster and give Mr. Estrada the vote he deserves now. In fact, we are going to hold a rally this afternoon on Capital Hill with House and Senate leaders calling for an end to the filibuster. Giving Mr. Estrada his vote is the right thing to do and it is right for all Americans.

The strength of a nation and economic prosperity comes from its people. Since our Nation's birth, pluralism and diversity have been hallmarks of the American experience and Hispanic and Latin cultures have made remarkable contributions to our national identity and success story.

As you know, the Department of Housing and Urban Development plays an important role in helping many Americans realize their own personal American Dreams. While we are the nation's housing agency, much of our focus is on building the economic strength of this nation… creating prosperous communities… and empowering families to achieve financial security.

In the past two years, HUD has made great progress in carrying out President Bush's housing agenda by becoming an agent of empowerment, compassion, and opportunity. And we are proud of the fact that we are making a real difference in people's lives.

One of the Administration's top priorities is to make homeownership a viable option for every American, especially minorities, who want to own a home. Homeownership reached record levels last year. But we can do better.

For example, not enough Hispanic families own their own homes. Last year, nearly 50 percent of Hispanics were homeowners, and while that is a record, and up from 42 percent in 1990, it is still almost 20 percentage points below the U.S. average. We obviously have a long way to go. But because the President and I believe so firmly in the transforming power of homeownership, we are committed to closing the gap.

The President has set a bold goal of creating an additional 5.5 million minority homeowners by the end of this decade. We at HUD responded by launching our Blueprint for the American Dream Partnership, and every segment of the housing industry, including the contractors, has joined with us to help meet the President's challenge.

Along with boosting homeownership, HUD promotes the production and accessibility of affordable housing for families and individuals who rent. Each year, our major rental assistance programs help to support 4.5 million households, many of which are Hispanic households.

Traveling around the country, we find that things are different from city to city and state to state. The nation is too large and too diverse to lump under a single federal solution. And no one is in a better position to address a community's specific affordable housing concerns than local community and business leaders.

We are helping to meet the affordable housing challenge, and to do so, HUD is forming partnerships at the state and local level with government agencies, developers, lenders, non-profit organizations, and the commercial sector. We strongly believe in finding local solutions to local problems, and that public-private partnerships help drive efficiencies and produce better results.

That certainly holds true for HUD's community and economic development programs, many of which I know are of interest to housing and commercial contractors.

Community Development Block Grants are HUD's main funding tool for economic development. CDBG funds are extraordinarily flexible. Communities can use them for a wide range of objectives in housing as well as revitalization and redevelopment, neighborhood restoration, and improved community services and facilities. The main beneficiaries are low and moderate-income persons.

Projects can be operated by local governments or through public or nonprofit agencies, neighborhood-based organizations, local development corporations, small business investment companies, and others. And next year's budget proposes total CDBG funding of $4.4 billion to meet locally identified community and economic development needs in more than 1,000 eligible cities, counties and states.

And in 2004, HUD will reform the program and make it more effective by studying ways to reward communities that commit to results-oriented, outcome-based performance plans. The proposed budget changes the current distribution of CDBG formula funds by focusing more in poor neighborhoods and reducing those to richer communities whose per capita income is at least double the national average.

I am proud to say that these programs, and many others at HUD, have directly benefited the Hispanic community in this country and have given Hispanics new opportunities to achieve success for themselves and their families.

As you are well aware, Hispanics recently became the largest minority group in the United States, surpassing African-Americans. And it is estimated that the Hispanic population in the U.S. will approach or even surpass 40 million by 2005, making the United States the second largest Spanish speaking nation in the world after Mexico.

To be sure, the United States is culturally diverse, and the construction industry is representative of that diversity. And in order to empower that diversity, we must --as Frank (Fuentes) is fond of saying - "build inclusion by eliminating exclusion."

With the growth of the Hispanic population, Hispanics are creating more opportunities in this country than ever before. Hispanic-owned businesses continue to grow in size and number and we have seen an increase in the number of Hispanic contractors, construction workers and homeowners.

In 1992, we owned fewer than 800,000 of our own businesses, today over 2 million businesses are Hispanic owned, and you bring in total annual revenues of almost $300 billion. In fact, one-third of all minority-owned businesses are owned by Hispanics. And I am very pleased that so many of these new business owners are women. Hispanic women are making powerful contributions in the business world. In fact, the fastest growing firms within the Hispanic community are those owned by women.

During the two years that I have been Secretary of HUD, we too have made significant strides in this area, by eliminating barriers to minority and women owned business participation in procurement and contract opportunities at our agency.

The President wants the face of this government to reflect the changing face of America. He is encouraging federal agencies to improve the representation of Hispanics within our ranks…to improve our hiring practices…and we have taken his advice to heart at HUD. And I can say with pride that HUD has the best minority hiring record of all of the Cabinet-level departments.

But I do not hold us out as the benchmark; even though our record is good, and continues to get better, it is far from good enough. We will work harder to improve the representation of Hispanics in the federal workforce and amongst our contractors.

Our Office of Small and Disadvantages Business Utilization (OSDBU) is tasked with ensuring that small and minority owned businesses are treated fairly and are provided an opportunity to compete and be selected for a fair amount of HUD's direct or indirect contract dollars.

On May 16, 2001, I signed HUD's Small Business Policy. In this policy, I have instructed my Assistant Secretaries for Housing, Community Planning and Development, and Public and Indian Housing to closely monitor and report the extent to which their grantees comply with the requirements stated in 24 CFR, Part 85, Section 36(e), that grantees are to take all affirmative steps to ensure that you are included in all contracting opportunities within our local governments.

HUD's Small Business Policy mandates "non-discriminatory practices in Federal procurement opportunities for small, small disadvantaged, small women-owned, service-disabled veteran businesses, and those businesses located in Historically Underutilized Business Zones. Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority Institutions of Higher Education are also included.

Our goal is to encourage teaming arrangements in bidding on HUD procurements and ensure that at least 50 percent of all direct awards go to small business. We pro-actively reach out to men and women of every race, religion and socio-economic background to educate small and minority business owners about the procurement opportunities that exist in the various departments back at HUD.

The OSDBU staff also meets with large companies around the country regarding their subcontracting plans and assists them with locating qualified small and minority-owned businesses with which to partner. And our subcontracting goal is to see up to 40 percent of all total Prime Contract Dollars, where the contract value is expected to exceed $500,000, be awarded to small and/or minority owned businesses.

I am glad to tell you that we are beginning to see these aggressive policies pay off. Between 2001 and 2002, we saw a 60 percent increase in the number of contracts awarded to minority owned small businesses (from 11% to 19%).

What are the lessons that we have learned from this increased focus on small business and minority contracting? Namely, that:

  • Small and minority businesses can do the job!
  • And that there are some very good, high quality small and/or minority businesses available to HUD.

Before I close, I would also like to briefly illustrate some of HUD's recent procurement successes.

These include the fact that:

  • Four of the top ten HUD contractors are small businesses;
  • HUD recently awarded an estimated $750 million contract to a minority-owned property management firm;
  • As members of the Contract Management Review Board, HUD management ensures consideration of small and disadvantaged business participation in all HUD procurements; and
  • We have developed our "Forecast of Contracting Opportunities," which is our online report that is updated weekly and contains Headquarters and Field procurements, small business set-asides and point of contact information.

HUD also is making an unprecedented effort to inform the minority communities about our programs and the many housing and contracting opportunities that we provide. In fact, we have Spanish-language brochures that describe the help the federal government can provide and a toll-free telephone hotline that provides Spanish-language information. The HUD web site also offers an entire library of information  - much of it in Spanish.

Regardless of race or gender, we as Americans are asking that the doors of opportunity not be closed based upon our heritage, our race, or our gender. We strive for full and fair access to the many opportunities that exist so that we may prove our viability by the quality of our work. And we believe in inclusion for all, based on capability, not social entitlement.

HUD has a critical role to play in opening these doors and unleashing the entrepreneurial spirit of minority owned businesses. And I am delighted that you are rising to the challenge and exceeding every and all expectations!

Thank you very much, and may God bless you all and God Bless America.

*This is not a transcript of the Secretary's speech.

Content Archived: March 16, 2010

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