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Rockingham County will soon have minority hiring goals for county construction projects, in compliance with state law requiring active solicitation of minority bids on projects of $100,000 or more.

A resolution, drafted by county officials, will establish a percentage of the total number of contracts that the county wants to see filled by minorities. The participation goal for state projects is 10 percent.The county has not set its goal, but county director of personnel and purchasing Ben Neal said it was likely to be ``real close' to the state's goal of 10 percent.

The law, which took effect Jan. 1, requires that state, county, municipal and local school administrations make a good faith effort to solicit bids from minority owned and operated companies for construction projects of $100,000 or more.

In addition, the public bodies must accept bids separately for four subdivisions of the project. They are:

Heating, ventilating, air conditioning and accessories

Plumbing and gas fittings and accessories

Electrical work and installations

General work not included in the first three categories.

If a single prime contractor is hired to oversee the full project, he must solicit bids from subcontractors separately for the subdivisions, and must solicit minority bids.

According to N.C. General Statute 143-128, minority groups included are blacks, Hispanics, Asian-Americans, American Indians, Alaskan natives and women. A minority business is a business or corporation in which at least 51 percent is owned by a minority person and daily operations are assumed by one or more minority owners.

State law, while set to encourage minority participation in government projects, does not require that a minority contractor be hired if its bid is not the lowest. The statute requires that contracts be awarded to the lowest bidder ``without regard to race, religion, color, creed, national origin, sex, age or handicapping condition.'

The law does, however, mandate that the public agencies and single prime contractors show proof that minority bids were actively solicited.

``A single prime contractor's bid may be rejected because no good faith effort was undertaken to assure minority business participation in the bidding process,' according to the statute.

Establishing the procedure for minority bids is not a high priority for the county right now, Neal said, because there were no construction projects of $100,000 or more planned for the near future.

``We are required (by state law) to do this, and we're going to do it,' he said. ``We will do our best to completely comply with it when the time comes along.'

There are not many minority contractors now on the county's vendor list, but Neal said he hopes the publicity over the participation goals will generate more interest among minority firms.

Current law requires that projects be advertised in a local paper, but Neal said rules regarding minority participation could encourage the county to more aggressively seek bids.

``If it's expected to generate more interest, we would advertise even more than the law requires,' Neal said.

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