SUITLAND — County Councilmember Rodney Streeter (District 7), along with At-Large Council Members Mel Franklin and Calvin Hawkins, held a roundtable discussion to identify needs and opportunities within small, local, minority, veteran and women-owned businesses on June 19.
During the meeting, the county councilmembers and the business community discussed financial assistance for small businesses, certification and bonding requirements, the criteria for choosing subcontractors on major development projects and resources available for the local business community.
The goal of the meeting, Streeter said, was to identify opportunities and make sure that businesses had the best possible chance at being awarded contracts.
“We wanted to make sure they have everything in order for those who didn’t, and for those who did we wanted to hear from them about what their experience has been on contracts in general around the county,” Streeter said.
In addition to business owners, members of organizations whose mission is to assist small businesses talked about resources and requirements for small businesses.
The presenters at the meeting were Suitland Action Team member Elsie Jacobs, Prince George’s County MBE Compliance Manager Mirinda Jackson, FSC First Business Development Manager J. Steward Smith, Supplier Development and Diversity Division Business Analyst Mary Battle and Hensel Phelps Manager of Supplier Diversity David Fisher.
Streeter said there are significant projects in the works in the Suitland area that could present opportunities for residents, such as 100,000 square feet of retail space coming into fruition and nearly 1,000 new homes.
His hope, he said, is that locals have the opportunity to purchase homes there and that new residents will move in. Additionally, small businesses will have the chance to bid on and win contracts.
“I’d like to see the money stay in the county to the extent that is possible,” Streeter said, “as well as a generation of wealth opportunities and a robust business community that can serve the needs of our community.”
One of the problems that Jacobs identified within the small business community, especially with minority businesses, is the businesses not getting noticed and given contracts when large developers come into the area.
“I try to have meetings so that the people, these developers, will understand when they come into a community so these people can have a chance. To try to get the small businesses educated as to what it is they can do to be prepared to be able to take contracts,” Jacobs said.
“I’m tired of seeing developers come to communities and people who are affiliated small businesses, and especially minority businesses, they are not getting a piece of the action.”
According to Jackson, Prince George’s County has more resources for small businesses than any other jurisdiction, and it’s just about business owners taking advantage of them.
“We have organizations here that will help them to start their business, grow their business, expand their business, provide them one-on-one counseling. We even have, we call it FSC First, and it’s a non-traditional lender. It’s much easier to get funding from them than a traditional bank.”
In her role as MBE compliance manager, Jackson works to develop a minority business enterprise plan, establish goals, monitor achievements, training, outreach and does site visits.
“As MBE compliance manager, I provide access to information, access to opportunity and access to services,” Jackson said. “My biggest value to the community is being able to advance their information and connect them with people looking to do business with them.”
The Suitland Action Team helps people with all kinds of issues from social work, legal advice and strategizing with the police to deter crime, Jacobs said. Part of that work includes working with small businesses and ensuring that when developers come into the area, a certain number of minority businesses are involved, something that county officials should be making sure of as well.
“Our community officers and myself are out there, and we are looking, and we’re watching, and we don’t see any minority businesses being involved. So that’s why we stepped in and started having these meetings so some of the powers that be can hear this.”
The biggest thing business owners can do to grow their business is to be active, Jackson said. That means going on the internet to seek out resources, being engaged, knowing what is going on in their community, their industry and their council district. They also need to connect with individuals who can get the word out to help market their company.
Getting everyone in a room to discuss their needs was a valuable experience for the local officials and for the business owners in attendance, Jackson said.
“Any time we have an open forum, we get to get information or become aware of their issues and concerns,” Jackson said. “Anytime you have that many people in one room, they really can connect and do business with each other. Most business decisions are made in a circular environment.”
Streeter found that the meeting was successful as well in reaching out to local business owners. Many had individual experiences and concerns that he planned to follow up with at a later date with the right people who could answer their questions.
“This is a huge area, and as we grow and build out the county, it will be increasingly more important that the local business community has every opportunity to participate in procurement processes in our government and that there are opportunities for residents to create wealth opportunities,” Streeter said.