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Ga. Tech to partner with city in program

ALBANY, Ga. -- Albany City Commissioners gave a tentative go ahead for city staff to partner with Georgia Tech's Procurement Assistance Program to handle the day-to-day operations of the city's Small Business Enterprise program, officials say.

Georgia Tech's program aimed at educating and helping small businesses gain access to government projects has long had a presence in Albany and Southwest Georgia, officials say, but that program has traditionally been limited to state and federal projects.

In an agreement tentatively adopted 6-1 with Commissioner Jon Howard the lone dissenter, the commission has agreed to a proposal for Georgia Tech's Procurement Assistance Center to take over the day-to-day management of the city's Small Business Enterprise

Program.

The program is designed to help grow and support small businesses that wish to participate in government-funded projects.

Albany PAC Director Clovia Hamilton told the commission that the Tech program has 11 different specialist centers across the state which have helped 2,700 vendors. In Albany, more than 100 vendors have received assistance through the center.

The program will help small business owners learn how to work with government bids, understand the procurement process and develop skills necessary to help them compete.

With a $100,000 price tag, some commissioners were hesitant to jump into the deal.

"It appears to me that maybe we should give Georgia Tech six months to a year and if we're not satisfied with it, we can bring it back," Albany Mayor Willie Adams said.

The problem, according to some on the commission, is that there is a chronic lack of participation by small business owners to bid on city projects.

Commissioner Tommie Postell said that you'll never be able to convince some people to participate but that Tech may be able to help change some minds.

"You can't make people do anything; like the old saying, you can take a horse to water but you can't make him drink," Postell said. "Maybe this program through Georgia Tech can change the mentality and encourage people to participate."

City Manager Alfred Lott echoed the concerns about participation.

"The key point here is participation," Lott said. "Whether you set it up here (the city) or through Georgia Tech, the businesses have to want to participate for their to make a difference."

William Wright, head of the local NAACP branch, said after the meeting that commissioners are still missing the picture when it comes to helping small and minority businesses and have done nothing to help remove the barriers that keep government bidding practices on an uneven playing field.

"There still is just a callous indifference on behalf of the commission," Wright said. "The problem is that neither the commissioners nor the Georgia Tech people have talked with minority business owners."

Wright said that the fundamental problems facing small and minority-owned businesses is a lack of access to capital and bonding requirements that are too restrictive.

"The city has to work to remove these barriers to access before anything meaningful can be done," Wright said. "That $100,000 is just a wasted money spent by a commission that has a callous indifference to black-owned business."