Municipal contracts can be an important source of income for small businesses. But it’s not always easy to find a way through the maze of red tape to get the work. Hartford has been trying particularly to help small contractors, and women and minority-owned businesses to benefit from city contracts. WNPR’s J Holt brings us the story.
Rosemond Frett has been in business in Hartford for fourteen years, but she’s never had a contract with the city itself. She says when she first registered her company with the state in 1997, she did seek out opportunities.
Frett- “I went to the secretary of state office and everything and I asked about it and they said at that point they were giving it to larger companies and it was up to that company if they wanted to give a set aside to a smaller company. I don’t know if that has changed, but I’m hoping that it has.”
Frett runs both a travel agency and a gift basket business and she came to a recent workshop to find out more about working for the city.
Eloy Toppin- “This administration, the city, gets it.”
The workshop was run by Eloy Toppin, of the city’s procurement office.
Toppin- “What I mean by that is that it is understood that small businesses are the backbone of the community. That’s why this administration is really putting a lot of emphasis not only on large companies but on the small businesses.“
This workshop focused on Hartford’s Small Contractor and Minority Women Business Enterprise Program – MWBE for short. Toppin told the 25 or so businesses assembled at City Hall that one of the keys to success is the subcontractor directory.
Toppin- “What does that directory do? For construction contracts, when a general contractor contracts with the city, 15% of that contract must go to a small contractor or MWBE.”
The requirement applies to all city funded construction projects that go through the bidding process – basically any contract worth more than 25 thousand dollars. In order to be eligible, a small contractor or MWBE must be listed in the city’s directory. But here’s the catch:
Toppin- “It’s not a easy application process.”
The application packet contains half a dozen pages of questions, and requires the submission of up to 19 supporting documents. It must prove that the company has been registered with the state for more than a year, has annual revenue of less than 10 million dollars, and is operated by its controlling owner. Additionally, an MWBE must prove it is owned and operated by a woman or minority. Toppin says the city recognizes that’s a tough process for a small business with limited experience.
Toppin- “We thought the proper thing to do is to be in front of a person telling them exactly what the requirements are, why we have these requirements, and just have some dialogue and have some opportunity to ask some questions.”
Business owner Rosemond Frett had hoped to hear that her travel agency, Dream Travel and Escapes, could benefit from city contracts, but she learned at the workshop that there’s no money in the budget for city officials to travel.
Frett- “So that’s something that will benefit me from the City standpoint, but maybe from the state and other municipalities that, you know, are traveling, and that’s something I can investigate.”
J Holt- “So you’re still interested in putting in the effort to-”
Frett- “Yes, to LEARN, and to find out what’s out there, because until you find out what’s out there you won’t know how to grow.”
Frett says she does still see promise for her gift basket business, since City departments also consult the list for non-construction related goods and services. She has learned the category in which it could be placed in the directory, and plans to pursue MWBE certification for that business as well.
For WNPR, I'm J Holt.