Growing Small Business

§ December 10th, 2010 § Filed under small business § Tagged , , , , § No Comments

For the past ten years I have had the opportunity to serve on the Bexar County Small, Minority, & Women-Owned Business Enterprise (SMWBE) Program Advisory Committee. This committee makes recommendations to Commissioners Court on issues that affect contracting and purchasing practices within the County. The focus is on finding ways to create a level playing field for small business and those businesses that are run by minorities, women, and Veterans.

Shortly before I joined, the committee had recommended and the Commissioners had agreed to hire Renee Watson as the Manager of the SMWBE Program. To those of us in the small business community (and San Antonio is primarily a small business community), Renee has been the smartest decision our County Commissioners have ever made. I’m sure there are people all over the country in government or private enterprise who understand contracting and participation of small, minority, women, and Veteran businesses, but I would hold Renee up against anyone in the nation for her knowledge. She has guided us in helping to oversee a race-neutral program since Bexar County has no set-asides or points awarded for participation by particular groups. Our committee has consistently requested that any organization that uses County funds open the purchasing process to small business. That includes County departments and organizations such as University Hospital that are funded by taxpayer dollars. That also includes companies that get large contracts from the County. Beyond that, Renee advises any company that comes to the area in how opening up their purchasing to locally-owned business will help save them money and give them positive publicity and support in the area the company serves.

There have been a number of successes that have grown out of the County’s SMWBE office including a very successful mentor-protégé program for construction companies. The AT&T Center and the J.W. Marriott have posted record percentages of purchases from small, minority, women and veteran businesses in the San Antonio area, partially due to the involvement of Renee and the committee.

One of the most helpful programs has been the Contracting Conference that is held in December each year. We just completed our tenth event. This year’s event featured 170 exhibitors, nearly all purchasing managers who were there to let small businesses know that they want to buy goods and services. The event provides the over 4000 small business owners who attend a chance to talk one-on-one to purchasers from every government agency and a number of private firms. There are workshops and briefings and the entire event is free to the attendees.

The volunteer force at this event has grown to approximately 150 people who donate two or more hours to help register and check in the attendees, provide directions and answer questions, and relieve the exhibitors when needed. There are four of us who have volunteered since the first years of this event who help guide the rest. We all believe strongly in the importance of opening up opportunities to small business.

Small businesses are indeed the engine that fuels this country, and nowhere more than in the San Antonio area. When small businesses grow, they tend to stay in the area. The owners of small businesses are from here. Their families are here. They have a commitment to the area. When businesses such as the J.W. Marriott purchase goods and services from local business, those businesses build capacity and hire more people from the area.

This week, I talked to a number of small business owners who made contacts that will likely turn into contracts. I am honored to be a part of this effort and very thankful to Commissioners Court, Renee Watson, and her team for making this possible.

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