Partnership would help businesses cut red tape

Local leaders are dusting off an old proposal meant to help local businesses — particularly those owned by minorities and women — get a piece of the local government pie.

For about $180,000 a year, several local governments would band together and create a new office to walk businesses through the sometimes complicated process of bidding on local government contracts.

“We have large numbers of people ... who don’t know how to do business with the city of Macon, Bibb County, the Housing Authority,” said Bibb County Commissioner Lonzy Edwards, who is pushing the idea. “They don’t know how to cut through the red tape.”

A written proposal to establish this Intergovernmental Business Opportunity Center soon will head to a Macon City Council committee for discussion. Bibb County already has budgeted its share of funding for the center, and the Macon Water Authority and Macon Housing Authority already are on board. Housing Authority Executive Director John Hiscox wrote the four-page draft description of the center that’s circulating, as well as a “for discussion only” budget that puts the cost at $180,000 a year.

Hiscox said more government entities, such as the Bibb County school system, can be added to the partnership later, but “you’ve got to start somewhere.”

“We figure that critical mass is probably three or four of us,” he said. “It costs us next to nothing to add an additional partner (beyond that).”

The center, as envisioned, would have two full-time employees and a third part-timer. Edwards said organizers don’t have anyone in mind for those jobs and that everything about the proposal is open for discussion and change.

The center would be a “one-stop” shop where “any local business could register to receive bid and proposal solicitations from all the participating governments,” Hiscox wrote in his summary.

“Folks could come in, fill out one set of forms ... and know that they would receive a steady stream of bid invitations (from all these governments),” Hiscox said.

The center also would reach out to local businesses, recruiting them to bid, he wrote. Then, it will help them comply with the sometimes complicated requirements of government contracts, which often reach all the way to the federal level, given the way federal tax dollars flow down to local governments.

The center has its roots in a 1996 study by a Georgia State University professor who looked at the city, county, water authority and housing authority’s contracts. There was a push to increase the number of minority- and female-owned businesses getting those contracts, but a formal effort to create the center fizzled.

The housing authority put some things in place on its own and consistently tops its goal of issuing 20 percent of contracts to minority-and female-owned businesses, Hiscox said. Hiscox said it probably would take several days to compile figures on how many of the authorities contracts go to locally owned businesses. Cumulative figures for city, county and water authority contracts were similarly hard to come by.

“There’s a lot of anecdotal stuff,” Edwards said. “But I don’t know that there’s been any follow-up studies (since 1996).”

The bottom line, Edwards said, is that there are “substantial business people in this town,” of all races, who don’t know how to bid on government projects.

This proposal is expected to be discussed today at Macon City Hall, during the City Council’s Appropriations Committee’s scheduled 4 p.m. meeting. Mayor Robert Reichert supports the proposal, according to his office.

To contact writer Travis Fain call 744-4213.