Thursday, Jan. 31, 2008

Minority executives pursue state procurement deals

Companies learn how to vie for more than $1 billion in contracts

E-mail this article \ Print this article

Susan Whitney⁄The Star
Gasby Ayoh, president and CEO of Evergreen Protective Services in Lanham, discusses procurement opportunities with Michelle R. Wright, coordinator of the Base Realignment and Closure Program under the Governor’s Office of Minority Affairs.
The Maryland government awarded more than $1.2 billion in contracts to minority-owned businesses in 2006, and business leaders piled into a workshop Friday to find out how to get a piece of that pie.

Procurement opportunities with government agencies is an issue ‘‘near and dear” to business owners, said James A. Dula, president and CEO of the Prince George’s Chamber of Commerce, which offered the workshop.

‘‘We need to make sure that we know how to get certified,” Dula said. ‘‘We need to make sure the state knows our eagerness to get you certified and get you all into what the process is ...,” he said.

Organizers initially expected about 50 people at the workshop, but more than 100 squeezed into a tightly packed room at the National Agricultural Library in Beltsville to learn about Minority Business Enterprise certification requirements and guidelines, and information on procurement opportunities with the state.

Presenters from the Governor’s Office of Minority Affairs and Maryland Department of Transportation, the department that oversees Minority Business Enterprise certification, strongly encouraged attendees to get certified and work with procurement officers at different agencies before contracting opportunities are posted.

Participating state agencies have a 25 percent procurement goal for minority-owned businesses, with subgoals of 7 percent for black-owned businesses and 10 percent for those owned by women.

Certification does not guarantee a contract with any agency, said Zenita Wickham Hurley, director of the Minority Business Enterprise office at the transportation department. Companies still need to market themselves, she said.

The office receives up to 80 applications a month, ‘‘but we want more,” Hurley said.

An additional 10 percent of state procurement dollars from participating agencies must be spent through the Small Business Reserve, and 95 percent of businesses in the state are small, said John Petty, assistant secretary of the Governor’s Office of Minority Affairs.

With the Pentagon’s Base Realignment and Closure plans on the horizon, contracting opportunities are expected to grow. As of December, Maryland is slated to get an additional $10 billion in contracting opportunities related to BRAC, said Michelle R. Wright, BRAC program coordinator for the minority affairs office. BRAC is expected to bring thousands of jobs to military installations in Maryland, including Fort Meade and Andrews Air Force Base.

By a show of hands, only a handful of those in the audience indicated their companies were certified as Minority Business Enterprises.

It usually takes three to six months to become MBE-certified. Of the roughly 4,000 companies certified to do business with the state, about 80 percent have their principal place of business in Maryland.

The Prince George’s County Economic Development Corp. has experienced similar interest its workshops that cover procurement issues with federal, state and county agencies. Attendance at those monthly sessions ranges from 70 to 135 businesses, said Charlotte Ducksworth, director of the group’s Small Business Initiative, in an e-mail.

These opportunities for county companies to meet directly with contract managers and decision-makers ‘‘has resulted in various contracts for Prince George’s County firms,” she said.

‘‘The workshop speakers inspired myself, along with many other companies, to become certified,” said Brian L. Williams, founder and president of Williams Associates Inc., an organization development and management consultant company in Waldorf. With a business that’s about 1 year old, he was encouraged to hear that certification can be sought as soon as the business is established, he said.

Mid Atlantic Systems in Odenton has already started the certification process. Cherie M. Tyler, the company’s COO, was familiar with some of the information shared at the workshop, but found the $1 billion-plus in annual awards ‘‘certainly enlightening,” she said.

Her mind was spinning as she thought about ways to get a foot in the door, she said. The total awarded is large, but the process is also ‘‘large and confusing,” she said. No matter what you do or how you do it, you have to work with the right people, she said.

Rommell G. Hollins, Sr., president of RMH Computer Disposal Services in Beltsville, is in the process of organizing all the paperwork required for MBE certification.

‘‘I would like for them to simplify the process,” Hollins said. Although he understands all the information the state needs to review and verify, ‘‘it should not take you three to six months to get certified.”

As the owner of a small business that recently reached its second anniversary, ‘‘it’s very costly for me to stay in business if I don’t get the help that they are promising,” he said.

Hurley explained that an informal process called ‘‘fast-tracking” was suspended for the time being because the Department of Transportation ‘‘took a lot of heat in the media” for how it was abused and used to help those who had special relationships with people in the department or the administration.

Hollins said he is disappointed that fast-tracking is no longer an option. The last time he looked in the mirror he was black, and ‘‘that’s the fast track right there,” Hollins said. ‘‘If that’s not certification for you enough, I don’t know what you’re asking for.”