In Wake of Gov. Baker’s Executive Order, LGBT Entrepreneurs Thrive in Massachusetts

LGBT EntrepreneursTrueNorth’s James Palmier, operation analyst, and Connie Englert, founder and managing director.
Photo: TrueNorth Transit Group LLC
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LGBT Entrepreneurs now have more options and better opportunities to compete in the business world

By: Luke Sherman/TRT Reporter—

The LGBT business community is receiving a leg up in the Bay State.

Late last year, Republican Governor Charlie Baker expanded the Commonwealth Supplier Diversity Program (SDP) to include LGBT-owned businesses, allowing them to receive priority for state contracts. Established in 2010, SDP encourages the award of these contracts to companies owned by women, people of color, veterans, the disabled, and most recently, LGBT people.

“Frankly, I am thrilled that Governor Baker is being proactive with diversity programs in Massachusetts and think that our state is far ahead of others,” said Candice Collins-Boden, executive director of the Provincetown Chamber of Commerce. “I would think that LGBT owned businesses would target Massachusetts to begin or bring their businesses to Massachusetts as their home base.”

Jonathan Lovitz, vice president of external affairs at the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC), underscored the importance of Governor Baker’s executive order to the LGBT business community.

“Becoming a certified LGBT Business Enterprise (LGBTBE) and contracting with companies who focus on supplier diversity is one way you can be sure our community isn’t just surviving but thriving,” he said. “Every day these enterprises are creating jobs, innovating industries, and adding to the local [gross domestic product] of their communities, as well as helping raise the visibility of the LGBT business community one game-changing opportunity at a time.”

A transgender woman, Connie Englert is one of the many Massachusetts business owners who have received certification as an LGBTBE in the months following Governor Baker’s directive. She founded TrueNorth Transit Group LLC (TNTG), a transportation management and consulting company, in January 2015. TNTG calls Shelburne Falls, a tiny village in Franklin County, home.

As the managing director of TNTG, Englert operates a regional bus service, known as MAX, with Fox Bus Lines Inc. MAX serves a number of towns and small cities in central Massachusetts, including Amherst, Worcester, and Northampton, communities that have few effective public transportation services.

“We work and support transportation in largely rural areas, and we connect parts of the Commonwealth to the rest of the nation,” said Englert, who has nearly three decades of experience in the public transportation sector. 

Englert’s company received certification as an LGBT-owned business by both the NGLCC and Massachusetts Supplier Diversity Office this past spring.

Rich Parritz, the owner of Promostuff Online, a Boston-based promotional products company, emphasized the importance of LGBT-business owners identifying themselves as such.

“The gay community is really loyal to gay people. It’s this incredible bond,” said Parritz. “Being active within your quote-unquote tribe can be really good for business.”

While the Massachusetts Department of Transportation awarded its current contract to TNTG to operate its bus service before Governor Baker updated the SDP, Englert said that the directive will benefit her company as it grows.

“Without the executive order, we would not even be considered [for] this work … so while the short-term impact has not been felt, we are definitely—because of this status, because of the executive order—able to look at future growth plans in a way that we would not have been able to,” she said.

Stacy Robison, the co-founder and president of CommunicateHealth, has also registered her company as an LGBTBE with both the NGLCC and the state. She founded her business, a health education and communication firm based in Northampton, seven years ago with her partner in her attic. It has since grown dramatically, with approximately 40 employees currently working for the company.

Robison believes that Governor Baker’s executive order benefits LGBT entrepreneurs by increasing the visibility of the community in the business world, which she cited as one of the chief challenges LGBT business owners face.

“We’re also a woman-owned business, and so I participate in all sorts of programs for women-owned businesses, like networking, mentoring, and things like that,” she said. “But until now, there haven’t been the same sorts of opportunities for LGBT-owned businesses because essentially we haven’t even been recognized as a group. Visibility has just been such a huge challenge.”

For businesses based in towns and cities with bigger LGBT populations, however, the executive order, while still meaningful, has had less of an impact.

Robert Papa, the owner of Art’s Dune Tours, a Provincetown-based touring company, has owned his company for about 20 years. His family founded the business in 1946.

“Being in Provincetown is a huge advantage for us because we’re, you know, a gay town. It’s great that we don’t have to worry about any discrimination at all,” Papa said. “We’re lucky in that sense compared to other small businesses that are in a non-gay area.”

Unlike many other areas of the state, Provincetown has a chamber of commerce that has events for LGBT business owners. Because many LGBT-owned businesses are members of the Provincetown Chamber of Commerce, LGBT businesspeople in the area have many opportunities to network with one another, Papa added.

Robison stressed that although this directive helps LGBT entrepreneurs, LGBT businesspeople have already achieved great success in the corporate world.

“It’s not that LGBT-owned businesses can’t do the work and need extra opportunities. I think we’re good proof of that,” she said. “We’re already doing the work. We’re qualified to do the work. But I think something like this just gives even more opportunities to new businesses to compete, and I think that’s all the better for everyone.”

For more information on the LGBT business community in Massachusetts and the certification process for LGBT business owners, visit http://nglcc.org/massachusetts.