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Chad Swiatecki is a 20-year journalist who relocated to Austin from his home state of Michigan in 2008. He most enjoys covering the intersection of arts, business and local/state politics. He has written for Rolling Stone, Spin, New York Daily News, Texas Monthly, Austin American-Statesman and many other regional and national outlets.
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Hey, small businesses: The city wants to give you money
The city is seeking small businesses of all kinds that want to learn how to take home some of the tens of millions of dollars in city contracts for goods and services each year.
Wednesday marks the second annual Small Business Contracting Forum, which takes place all day at Palmer Events Center and will give the more than 1,000 expected attendees a chance to meet with leaders of 24 city departments along with representatives from Cedar Park, Buda, San Marcos, San Antonio and the University of Texas.
The free event is organized by the city’s Purchasing Department and will feature sessions on how to register as a city vendor, create bids and proposals, contracting requirements, and information on future business opportunities. Collectively, the city’s 40 departments have spent more than $155 million over the past two years on small contracts with a total value of less than $50,000.
Yolanda Miller, deputy purchasing officer, said the first small contracting forum last year was organized because the city was seeing decreasing levels of response to its solicitations for bids on small purchases. Those purchases are generally put in one of four categories: goods/commodities, construction, services and professional/licensed services.
Miller said those who attend the forum will be able to learn about the city’s purchasing processes but will also be able to talk face to face with department heads and other city staff with the ability to influence purchasing decisions.
“It’s going to put us right there with our vendors because all of these departments are going to have the experts there to provide them with directly what types of future opportunities are going to come up,” she said.
Miller said several of the business owners who attended last year’s session went on to secure small city contracts, which can be approved with only one quote for less than $3,000 total. Larger contracts up to $50,000 require three quotes, including two from women- or minority-owned businesses.
She said some of those vendors have used the validation of being a city contractor to greatly expand their businesses in the year since.
“Sometimes people don’t realize that having the city do business with you is so effective in building your business in other locations because it gives you a reputation that people can count on,” she said. “I want to make sure people have the opportunity to meet as many subject matter experts as possible in one location.”
The city is in an ongoing effort to increase the number of women- and minority-owned businesses it contracts with, in part because ongoing studies have found the makeup of city contractors does not reflect the city’s gender and ethnic demographics.
A new study to determine the size of that disparity is expected to get underway soon.
LaTonya Pegues, owner of the BOAX Enterprises leadership and development training firm, said attending the initial city forum last year helped her learn what opportunities were available with the city, including a training contract she went on to secure.
“It was great because a lot of the decision-makers were actually there, people who were at the director level or at least knew what was going on departmentwide. That helps because someone who only knows a little bit of what is happening doesn’t know the big picture, whereas someone higher up might actually know they have a need for what you’re selling.”
Pegues said business owners thinking of attending should do research beforehand on what issues are top of mind in the city, as well as what departments may need what they have to offer.
“They’re pretty serious about giving people an opportunity to find out what’s available. To grow a company you have to be able to speak to the right person, the people who are at the decision-maker level,” she said. “I can’t emphasize (enough) how important it is to be able to interact with people who are at that level.”
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City of Austin: Our town