Andrew Cuomo

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks at the New York State Minority and Women-owned Business Enterprises Forum on Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2014, in Albany, N.Y. New York state is looking to increase the number of state contracts going to businesses owned by women and minorities. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) – New York state will aim to give 30 percent of its contracts to businesses owned by minorities or women, one of the highest goals of its kind in the country, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Thursday.

Cuomo made the announcement during remarks at a forum for women- and minority-owned businesses. A previous goal of 20 percent was surpassed last year.

“We will hit 30 percent and we will tell all the other states ‘you can follow us,'” said Cuomo, a Democrat. “Let New York lead the way.”

The state’s efforts to boost its reliance on minority-owned business began as a way to encourage small businesses and ensure state contracts were awarded fairly. Since 2011 the percentage of qualified businesses holding state contracts has more than doubled, and now accounts for nearly $2 billion in contracts with the state of New York.

“When your businesses are successful your entire community benefits,” said state Sen. Ruth Hassell-Thompson, a Bronx Democrat, who said the program helps boost employment, tax revenue and the economic stability of minority communities.

Cuomo said the initiative is part of the state’s larger work to knock down racial and gender barriers to employment, housing and education.

“We have not yet become a just society,” he said. “Discrimination and racism are alive and well in America today… I call it ‘discrimination with a smile’ – it’s more subtle but it’s just as insidious.”

Many states set goals for the percentage of state contracts they would like to see held by minority-owned businesses. According to the non-profit Insight Center for Community Economic Development New York’s 30 percent goal would be the highest in the nation.

Maryland last year increased its goal to 29 percent.

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