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VOL. 125 | NO. 44 | Friday, March 5, 2010

Small Businesses Could Land More Government Contracts

By Bill Dries

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Small businesses account for 11 percent of the contracts Shelby County government awards on an annual basis.

But interim Shelby County Mayor Joe Ford rolled out a report Thursday that sets a 20 percent goal along with a campaign to raise awareness among small businesses that they can get a piece of the county’s business.

“It could be janitorial supplies. It could be printing. It could be medical supplies. It could be computer supplies,” Ford said. “It’s everything you see in county government.”

The report is from one of the numerous ad hoc committees Ford appointed in December to study various issues shortly after he became mayor.

The 16-member group chaired by County Commissioner J. W. Gibson, Ford’s rival for the appointment as interim mayor, has also recommended the county’s Equal Opportunity Compliance (EOC) office stop enforcing a “net worth” requirement for Locally Owned Small Businesses (LOSB) that apply for a share of the contracts.

The net worth threshold has been used by the EOC to determine which companies qualify as locally owned small businesses. The new rule would recognize a company’s net worth of no more than $5 million instead of classifying its owner that way.

“Many small businesses feel left out,” said task force member Andre Fowlkes, the director of the Small Business Chamber. “They don’t feel included in what’s taking place. We need to bring them in the loop as far as business activity and what the resources are that are available to them.

Gibson said the changes recommended by the task force represent tweaks to the existing ordinance that would not require approval or amendments passed by the Shelby County Commission.

Ford said the ability to get parts of large government contracts could have an immediate economic impact on the region.

“We spent $69 million on contracts under $5,000. … That’s a lot of money,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of small businesses that can participate.”

Clifton Davis, director of county purchasing, said the county will make an effort to find such businesses through kiosks stocked with technical literature about how to get involved.

“But businesses must make their own effort,” he added.

Fowlkes said many small-business owners also have assumptions about who is included and who isn’t.

“Large companies, niche industries, minority groups – many say that all of the resources are only for them,” he said. “But we must bring to light that there are resources for all small-business owners to bring them in on building a greater community for Memphis and Shelby County.”

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