Offering equal opportunity for state contracts

Georgia has been lauded as a top state for business as a result of a strong and lasting partnership between the public and private sectors that has created an environment in which companies can succeed. Doing so requires an important balance between free enterprise and regulation. The Georgia Chamber has worked to help maintain that balance in order to ensure our state is a place where companies of all size, background and industry have an equal opportunity to grow and create jobs.

Our state should also be a place where all companies have an equal opportunity to compete for state contracts, which was an issue raised during the recent legislative debate over transportation funding.

For those unfamiliar with the Department of Transportation’s contracting process, it requires the lowest bid from a qualified contractor or contracting team be accepted. This ensures sound stewardship of taxpayer dollars as well as quality work. Opportunities are advertised to qualified businesses, and the Department has active Equal Access Committee and Disadvantaged Business Enterprise programs focused on including more qualified minority- and women-owned companies.

In addition, GDOT conducts regular disparity studies to learn how these programs can be improved – a commitment they re-emphasized to members of the General Assembly during this year’s transportation funding debate.

The challenge for GDOT as well as other state agencies and private entities seeking new vendors often lies in the number of available, qualified companies. As we look to how we can ensure an even playing field that offers opportunity for all, helping new or disadvantaged companies understand processes, gain qualifications and secure the funding they need are all ways our state can make a positive impact.

Fortunately, there are strong programs in place that target each of these goals.

For example, the Georgia Minority Supplier Development Council has worked with minority businesses for 40 years to help them receive the certifications they need and connect with potential opportunities. The Council is supported by some of Georgia’s largest companies and works closely with the state Department of Economic Development in their efforts to support new and growing businesses. A great example of the Council’s partnership with the state is the Georgia Mentor Protégé Connection, which connects small businesses with corporations from which they can learn best practices, build relationships and gain a broader understanding of their industry.

Another key partner in that program is Georgia Tech. The institution expanded its role in support of new minority businesses more than 10 years ago with the opening of the Minority Business Development Agency Business Center. It focuses on helping companies secure the capital and grow the market share needed to create new jobs.

These are just a few examples of efforts underway to ensure that companies doing business in our state are reflective of the citizens that call Georgia home. While some may argue there is room for improvement with regard to the percentage of contracts offered to disadvantaged businesses, it is clear it is an issue many are actively working to address in a way that will ultimately make both our state and economy stronger.