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Small Businesses Must Be Included in the California High Speed Rail Project

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Black Voice News Publisher Hardy Brown says, “Blacks cannot afford to be left standing at the station,” in regards to who will pay and who will build a high speed rail system in California (November 10).

Indeed this is a concern. I believe, however, that our concern is for an even wider constituency: the small and disadvantaged business community. According to the Press Enterprise, “Businesses with fewer than 100 employees are responsible for creating two-thirds of the jobs in Riverside and San Bernardino Counties.” (1-13-10) As a small business owner myself, I understand that small businesses are often left out of the bidding process.

The highspeed rail project is projected to cost $98 billion. In 2008, California voters approved Proposition 1A bonds to provide partial funding ($9 billion). Prop 1A also specified that no taxpayer subsidies will go to operations and maintenance of the operating system. Other funds are expected to come from the federal government, although the amount and timing of these funds is not certain. Private investment is expected once the first phase is operative in 2033. This means a big payday for somebody, but California workers and California businesses may be left out of the picture.

The California Assembly has been active in introducing legislation to encourage the purchase of high-speed train rolling stock and related equipment that are manufactured in California, and to encourage the participation of small businesses in Rail Authority contracts. Good legislation that did not make it out of committees in 2011.

There is recent news with the potential to become good news for small businesses in the Inland Empire. The High Speed Rail Authority approved an addition to its business plan: a new Small Business Policy outlining contracting requirements that will include the participation of Small Businesses, Disabled Veteran Business Enterprises, Disadvantaged Business Enterprises and Micro-Businesses in the Authority’s procurement process. The policy requires the Authority to meet an overall 30 percent Small Business Participation goal. The Authority’s intent is to ensure that firms that participate in the construction of the high-speed train system reflect the diversity of the business community in our state.

I recently co-sponsored the Inland Empire Procurement Expo, along with the California Public Utilities Commission and ADF Networking Consultancy, Inc. We learned that to do business with public agencies, small businesses must be certified. This can be done online at www.getcertified.dgs.ca.gov. The High Speed Rail Authority’s website has a section dedicated to small business resources. You can access it at http://www.cahighspeedrail.ca.gov/sb-resources.aspx. The resources include links to Small Business Certifications and State of California Disadvantaged Business Certification; help with Surety Bonding; the Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization, U.S. Department of Transportation.

I encourage small businesses in our region to become involved in the small and disadvantaged business opportunities for contracting with public agencies. The economic recovery is slow and incremental, we are told. And in our region, we see evidence of this slow recovery every day: home foreclosures; long lines at food pantries whose shelves are bare; and shuttered businesses. The time line for the High Speed Rail Project extends into the next two decades; economic benefit will not be revealed immediately. But together, we can begin to include small businesses in the recovery and to create the jobs that hold our families together and create communities.

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