Gray Promises Reforms for Small Businesses

Denise R. Barnes | 10/10/2012, 12:54 p.m.

A record number of cranes crisscross the cityscape daily, razing building throughout the District, yet small business owners continue to plead for an opportunity to participate in the economic boon, as they watch new construction projects break ground throughout the city.

To ensure that local business owners get a fair shake, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray and other city officials have vowed to fulfill the city's 35 percent small and local business set-aside goal of the $1 billion worth of development projects currently underway and in the pipeline.

"We want to make sure our small businesses are a part of that economic resurgence," Council member Vincent Orange [D-At Large] told a group of nearly 120 business owners who attended a daylong small business summit at the Hamilton Restaurant and John A. Wilson Building on Sept. 28. "I'm all about circulating the dollar in the District of Columbia," he said.

Orange, who chairs the Committee on Small and Local Business Development, said he often hears from small business owners who feel excluded when it comes to District contracts.

Orange sponsored the summit, in partnership with the Disadvantaged, Small, Local Business Development Agency [DSLBD], the D.C. Chamber of Commerce, and the Greater Washington Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

Speakers included Gray, Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development Victor L. Hoskins, Department of Small and Local Business Development [DSLBD] Director Harold Pettigrew, D.C. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Barbara Lang, and Greater Washington Hispanic Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Angela Franco. Small Business Administration officials also attended.

"We have more going on here than anywhere in the world, with the exception of New York and China," said Hoskins. "We need to take a moment and celebrate that," he said.

Gerald Jackson, of Dominion Electric of Washington, LLC, a small business located in Northeast, said he attended the summit to network with District government agency heads.

"I am trying to get contracts, find people to talk to, learn how to navigate the process," Jackson said. The 50-year old company is a Certified Business Enterprise [CBE] and is located in a Historically Underutilized Business [HUB] Zone - the categories allow small and local businesses to get "points" or preferences toward bids on government contracts.

Gray restated his priorities for the District - education, economic development and jobs. Touting his One City-One Hire initiative, he hailed the success of the Department of Employment Services [DOES] for working to get nearly 5,000 District residents employed since the program launched earlier this year.

"DOES use to be the place where you would just go to apply for unemployment. It's not that way anymore," said Gray, 69.

Despite the District's long history of promises to broaden contracting opportunities to its local small business community, many contractors said they're still optimistic. Warner Session, of The Session Law Firm in Northwest, said it's "necessary" to meet with city leaders and agency directors, and "to continue to keep the dialogue going in order to keep people's expectations high."