County discusses small business

ALBANY -- The county edged closer to making a decision that would reshape its bidding and procurement policy for small businesses Monday as discussions continued on the future of the small business enterprise program.

Formerly the Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization office or SDBU, the program was halted after a disparity study essentially determined that the county couldn't use race and gender conscious bidding practices.

To fill the void, the county has been hammering out a new entity that would focus on helping small businesses obtain bids on government contracts.

Time is of the essence as at least two county construction contracts, worth more than $2 million, have been temporarily halted until the bidding issue could be worked out.

Monday, the commissioners viewed a side-by-side comparison of their proposed small business program and how it matches up with one the city has already adopted.

The biggest differences exist in the geographical requirements for participating companies, the limits on personal net worth and the exclusivity of proposed sheltered markets, according to the information provided by the Dougherty County Small Business Office.

The geographical requirements to participate in the county program require that the business must be located in a 29-county swath of Southwest Georgia called the Local Albany Marketplace.

By contrast, the city limits its participants to be located in Albany or Dougherty County exclusively.

For the county, the large disparity in the area for participation is to encourage more participation in the bidding process and to give opportunity to more businesses who qualify to participate, County Commission Chairman Jeff Sinyard said.

"So what we're saying is that expanding the boundaries guarantees participation, which means we have more bang for the taxpayer's buck," Sinyard said.

On the city side, Assistant City Manager Wes Smith said the intent was to keep the local marketplace local.

"They (the city commission) wanted local to mean local and if it ends up hampering participation then, like any other program, it can be adjusted," Smith said.

To qualify for the county program, participants' personal net worth should be at $250,000 or less at entry into the program and is not to exceed $750,000, which the county says is standard for participation in federal small business programs.

The city has no limit for personal net worth.

Participants who provide commodities and non-professional services to the county would be included in the Sheltered Market Program, which allows them to reside in seven neighboring counties -- Baker, Calhoun, Dougherty, Lee, Mitchell, Terrell and Worth.

For participation in the city's sheltered market program, small businesses must have an average of $1 million in gross receipts over three years and not have more than $750,000 in personal net worth.

Commissioner John Hayes and Gloria Gaines each recommended that the county incorporate some kind of development arm to the program that would assist small business entities in providing resources they may either be lacking or non proficient in.

"We need some development policies for small businesses to help them so they don't become disparaged with the process," Hayes said. "While they may have skill in certain areas, there may be an area or an acumen, like bookkeeping or finance, where they could use some help."

Gaines said that the availability of minority businesses listed in the disparity study -- 14 percent -- troubled her and was anxious to find a way to address it.

"The question for our community is availability and how you address it," Gaines said. "How can you have a 14 percent availability in a county with a 68 percent minority population?"

Commissioner Lamar Hudgins said he was concerned that the program limits the bidding pool and that he was concerned that would drive up prices.

"Common sense would tell you that it would increase the cost to the taxpayer and I don't think we have gotten around that yet," Hudgins said.