ATLANTA — From fish fingers and canned fruit to feed prisoners to a 22-foot pontoon boat for the state Department of Natural Resources, Georgia purchases many goods and services to keep the state running.
State and local government contracts with businesses to provide goods and services amount to approximately $4.5 billion each year.
A report released last month by the Georgia Department of Administrative Services (DOAS) outlines steps the state could take to ensure that small businesses and minority-owned businesses have a chance to earn those lucrative shares of the state affairs cake.
The report stems from an executive order signed by Governor Brian Kemp last July requiring DOAS to explore ways to increase the number of state activities carried out by small businesses and minority-owned businesses, women and veterans.
The agency surveyed more than 600 small businesses to learn more about their experiences with the state contracting process. The investigation remains open, but DOAS has already compiled and published the first set of results.
DOAS has appointed Julian Bailey, who has worked for the agency for nearly a decade, as its chief small business and supplier diversity officer. Bailey will work to increase engagement with targeted business groups.
“The goal is to ensure that we level the playing field for all these companies, that they are no longer left behind, that they have the opportunity to participate in the bidding processes of the State,” Bailey told Capitol Beat. .
Many business people who responded to the survey said they were often unaware of relevant opportunities and lacked the time or staff to develop offers. These small businesses also do not have easy access to capital or the necessary amounts of insurance and bonding to do business with the state.
The new report recommends appointing a small business liaison in each state agency and Georgia university system institution to help make it easier for business owners to access the bidding process. The Liaison Officer would conduct outreach and training activities and help identify bidding opportunities.
The state should also increase its “matchmaking” services for companies interested in the bidding process. This would give small business owners the opportunity to meet with representatives of major contractors and state agencies and pitch their bids.
“We plan to partner with all these different organizations, all these different chambers [of commerce] locally, to make sure we leave no one behind,” Bailey said. “We make sure everyone can participate in the state nomination process.”
The report says Georgia should test an informal bidding process that would allow companies to submit informal bids via email for contracts of $100,000 or less. Such a system would encourage small businesses that are discouraged by complex tendering processes.
The state should also reduce insurance and bonding requirements for some state contracts to increase the number of companies eligible to bid, the report recommends.
About a third of survey respondents said they struggled to get enough capital to grow a business. Georgia’s Ministry of Community Affairs plans to expand a small business credit program to increase the amount of capital available to small businesses and minority-owned businesses.
DOAS already sponsors a number of training resources for business owners interested in bidding for a state contract. A seven-week training course the agency launched for small businesses recently concluded training 32 potential suppliers on how to do business with Georgia.
“This is a great opportunity for the state to say, ‘You know what? We are going to make a difference when it comes to minority, women and veteran-owned businesses,” Bailey said.
DOAS also manages procurement processes for smaller government entities, such as county commissions and local school boards.
Charlie Maddox, who sits on the board of the Department of Community Affairs and helped connect black chambers of commerce across the state to the new program, said smaller, local vendors can often better meet the needs of local governments. .
“Our goal is to let small employers know what’s out there, and also connect them with what they’re capable of providing,” Maddox said. “Some of these things can be done locally, by people who live in a community.”
Government contracts can provide steady income and stability for small businesses, Maddox said.
“We want…. the potential commercial operator there [to think] that this could be an opportunity for me,” he said. “They can be in Hahira, Georgia, and say, ‘Oh, there are these opportunities. …I want to be connected to this.’ ”
Independent advocates welcomed the new initiative, but said some checks and balances are needed to fully meet expectations.
“We are pleased to see Governor Kemp recognize the importance of building equity for small businesses with the announcement of the Small Business and Supplier Diversity Initiative Report,” said Rachel Shanklin, Georgia Director. of Small Business Majority, a small business advocacy group.
Shanklin urged Kemp to expand Medicaid and take other steps to promote equity in Georgia.
“We hope the governor addresses the state’s lingering equity issues with impactful and meaningful policies that increase diversity and remove long-term resource barriers,” she said.
“Efforts to provide better access to public procurement for small and small minority-owned businesses are always a plus, provided that prevailing wage standards are part of the process of warding off potential contractors who offer relatively low contract offers. weak by paying their employees unlivable wages,” added Ray Khalfani of the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute.
“This initiative to expand access can provide a greater window of opportunity for minority-owned business owners looking to create better jobs and hire underserved workers.”
This story is available through a partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.