By Kelley Atherton
Triplicate staff writer
Women and non-white business owners are receiving fewer contracts with the California Department of Transportation than their white male counterparts, according to a 2006 study.
To help remedy that, The Chancellor's Office of the Community Colleges awarded the North Coast Small Business Development Center $50,000 to help women and minority-owned businesses develop a competitive edge in winning contracts with Caltrans.
Caltrans has invested the money in 10 small business development centers in California to offer free educational workshops and counseling services to those disadvantaged businesses. The NCSBDC will offer the program to Del Norte, Humboldt, Lake and Mendocino Counties in District One.
A series of 15 workshops, beginning in January, will help familiarize women and minority business owners with the requirements and tools needed to successfully bid for contracts and build a strong management plan. The courses are taught by a team of training consultants. The first three courses will be on Jan. 16 and 17 at the College of the Redwoods downtown Eureka campus.
The first course, "Prime and Subcontractor Relations," is on Jan. 16 from 9 a.m to 12 p.m.
The second course, "Submitting Winning Bids and Executing Them Successfully," is on Jan. 17 from 1 to 4 p.m.
The third course, "Project Management and Construction Methods," is on Jan. 17 from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m.
NCSBDC Executive Director Michael Kraft believes the main reasons for NCSBDC winning the contract is geography and capabilities.
"We're right in the center of Caltrans District One," Kraft said. "In addition, the Chancellor's office is aware that we have the capability to perform on contracts like this, and I'd like to think that has something to do with it too."
A good time to grab funds
The California Construction Contracting Program for Caltrans for October 2007 to September 2008 is more than $3 billion in federal transportation funding and $3.5 billion state funding.
Kraft said that Caltrans is going to be spending 60 percent more per year over the next eight years due to the massive bond funding.
"It's a good time for North Coast businesses to grab some of that," Kraft said.
Caltrans' service contracts range from architectural and engineering design, hazardous waste removal, escrow services, aircraft rental, information technology consulting, tree trimming and vehicle repair and maintenance.
Kraft said Caltrans awards service contracts to different businesses in a gamut of industries. It also affects a small town's economy, similar to a film crew staying in town for a few months.
"When a road crew is working, they stay at hotels, rent local equipment, have a catering service deliver and hire local talent to the extent they can," Kraft explained.
In 1996, voters passed Proposition 209, which eliminated the use of race and gender in higher education, state contracts and hiring decisions. According to two studies by the Thelton E. Henderson Center for Social Justice at the University of California, Berkeley, the percentage of women and minority-owned businesses awarded contacts from Caltrans has fallen.
In 2006, the first study "Free to Compete: Measuring the Impact of Proposition 209 on Minority Business Enterprises" by Monique W. Morris at the Discrimination Research Center focused on Prop 209's impact on minority-owned businesses.
The study found that 32 percent of Minority Business Enterprises (MBE) certified by Caltrans are still in existence. The number of contracts awarded to MBE dropped by 50 percent since 1996 and black contractors felt the largest drop in contracts.
The subsequent study "A Vision Fulfilled? The Impact of Proposition 209 on Equal Opportunity for Women Business Enterprises" spans the 11-year history and impact of Prop. 209 on $2 billion in public contracts for Caltrans.
The study found that real dollars awarded to Women Business Enterprises (WBE) fell by 40 percent. Only 36 percent of WBE certified by Caltrans in 1996 are still in business, with black women being hit the hardest.
The study recommends Caltrans implement steps to augment and enforce a robust disadvantaged business enterprise program to provide leadership training to prevent gender bias in contract awards, and institute policies to enforce anti-discrimination in the workplace and on public projects.
For more information about the January workshops, whether a business qualifies and other NCSBDC services, call 707-445-1163 or visit www.northcoastsbdc.org.