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Removing Hurdles for Small Businesses

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I.E. Procurement Expo draws heavy-hitters and talent

By Chris Levister –

"Where in the world can you get one on one exposure to so many government and utility heavy hitters for free?" asks Precious Taylor, an attendee at the Inland Empire Procurement Expo held in San Bernardino Tuesday.

Taylor, who owns H.E.A.R.T.S. an educational resource and teaching service, expressed a sentiment that many small business owners have long known --- face time is 'precious' when it comes to connecting with who's who in government, public and corporate contracting. "Building relationships ultimately, increases sales, but you need people to help you find your way through the maze," she said.

More than 150 small business owners, buyers and procurement professionals from utilities, cable companies and government agencies gathered at the I.E. Regional Center for a one day contracting and procurement event hosted by Assemblymember Wilmer Amina Carter, D-Rialto, the California Public Utilities Commission and ADF Networking Consultancy, Inc.

Carter, a small business owner opened the expo with a personal snapshot of the barriers, successes and lessons associated with small and minority business participation in the contracting process.

"I have a floor covering business. I don't have to tell you how hard it was back in 1979 for a minority owned business to get loans, bid on contracts or even think of a one on one opportunity with buyers and procurement professionals," Carter told attendees.

"Determined to succeed, we went to the major companies, banks and government agencies and asked what is the reason you don't do business with small and minority businesses?"

Their response said Carter was "We can't find them."

Disappointed, but unbowed Carter says her company compiled a list of small businesses and published a minority business directory. "We returned to those companies with our directory and said, we found a lot of small businesses eager to do business with you so will you commit to showing them how?"

All California State Agencies are required to do 25 percent of their procurement and contracts wi th small businesses and 3 percent with Disabled Veteran Owned Enterprises (DVBE).

"You've got to be persistent but most of all you've got to do your homework to get in the door with major contractors," said retired Assemblymember Gwen Moore who chaired the Assembly Utilities and Commerce Committee for 14 years.

Moore authored historic legislation that opened the utility rate setting process to greater public scrutiny and greatly expanded contracting opportunities for small businesses.

"When I took over the committee some California utilities were doing less than one tenth of one percent of their business with small and minority businesses," said Moore. "Today that percentage is around 30 to 35 percent."

"Contracting with government agencies can be confusing, frustrating and down right difficult but the federal Small Business Administration (SBA) is here to help," SBA Deputy Director, Rachel Baranick told the attendees.

"We're talking about billions of dollars in contracting opportunities for Californians and we want to make sure that the pool of contractors are not only skillful but also diverse," she said.

Baranick said with the help of Inland Empire government and corporate partners the SBA offers a wide variety of grants and financial opportunities.

"We provide free comprehensive technical and business counseling, bidding and certification. Our one stop job resource centers are designed to match certified diverse suppliers with corporate buyers and decision makers," she said.

Business owners attending the expo were offered one on one "corporate matchmaking" appointments with procurement professionals from Southern California Edison, Time Warner, Verizon, the California Department of General Services and the California Water Association.

"Be concise; Be a networker" said SEC's Joe Alderete. "If a contractor asks if you can wire a house, don't just answer yes. Paint a mental picture of a perfectly wired house. Stand out from the crowd. Be different."

Small business owners seeking to offer their products and services to government agencies and utilities can find the maze of obstacles too complex to handle alone. When an entrepreneur belongs to a disadvantaged minority group, the obstacles can prove frustrating and overwhelming.

Just ask San Bernardino business owner Derrick Caddell.

When he launched his company DOC Construction two years ago he came with 20 years of experience in the industry as a field supervisor specializing in commercial and residential building improvements and renovations.

"I knew the ins and outs of the construction business like the back of my hand, so I was confident gaining access to contractors, financing, insurance etc. would be a breeze...so I thought." "Relationships, relationships.

. .its great to know your trade, but in this business you've got to get to know the players," said Caddell.

While most attendees had high praise for the event many believe minority-owned businesses remain under the influence of California's controversial Proposition 209 approved in November, 1996 which prohibits public institutions from considering race, sex or ethnicity.

Like it or not said disabled veteran and businessman Greg Adams "Proposition 209 is still the boogeyman at the door."

"Study after study paints minorities as being poor, unskilled and dependent on government aide," lamented ADF Networking CEO Francis Grice.

"Hogwash, look around here," she said referring to the crowded conference rooms.

"There's no shortage of talent, will or desire in the Inland Empire. What our communi ty needs is not more handouts and studies but more opportunities. Our goal is to create jobs by offering more opportunities."

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