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Dozens of minority-owned businesses seek ventures with Jeffco

By Erica Wright
The Birmingham Times

About 100 small and minority business owners gathered at the Linn Henley Research Library on Monday for the Jefferson County Purchasing Department’s free seminar for Disadvantaged Business Enterprises (DBE).

This is the second year the county has held the seminar for small businesses.

“The purpose of this is so disadvantaged businesses, women-owned businesses, minority-owned businesses can begin to look at doing business with Jefferson County,” said John Henry, chief financial officer for Jefferson County. “The county has not had a proactive approach in the past of welcoming disadvantaged and small businesses to do business with the county, so for the last two years we’ve been making an effort, and will in the future because we want to let people know that the county is open for business.”

Henry said the county’s improved finances “allows us to do a lot more projects and we want those businesses to have the opportunity to compete for those projects.”

DBEs are defined as “majority owned and operated, and controlled by one or more minority groups, including… African-Americans, women, Hispanics, Native Americans and veterans and… the controlling percentage is 51 percent or more of that business entity,” according to the county.

On Monday, business owners were able to meet with members from the Alabama Licensing Board for General Contractors and the Birmingham Construction Industry Authority (BCIA).

Officials from various county departments were on hand to discuss upcoming projects and share opportunities such as maintenance, repair and operational (MRO) type-bids.

Small business owners, Marvette Owens and Felesha Hubbard, both said they obtained valuable lessons from the seminar.

Owens is owner of M. Owens Investments, a real estate investment business specializing in tax liens and deeds and has been in business for a few months now.

“I heard about the event from Facebook and so I just signed up for it,” said Owens. “I learned how I can get contracts or do things through Jefferson County that I did not know. I learned how to register for those things and the different requirements that I need to fulfill in order to be qualified to bid on a contract.”

Hubbard, who owns Alabama Commercial Maintenance Company, LLC with her husband, David, and the firm does commercial and residential improvements such as painting, pressure washing, tiling, erosion control and minor roof repairs.

Hubbard heard about the event through email.

“This is our first year and we were just DBE certified this year . . . I’ve learned that you need to have your certifications and put time and work into your business because it does take time… if you’re going to be in it long term, it’s going to take dedication, . . . you [have] to continue to get out there and network, market yourself and your company and do your work.”

Dr. Michael Matthews, purchasing agent for Jefferson County said, the goal is to “create an inclusive community from which we can purchase goods and supplies . . . based on what has happened today, I think we are moving in the right direction . . . this is a marathon, not a sprint. After this meeting there is a lot of follow-up type work that we have to do to make sure that everyone stays connected and that everyone gets and stays plugged in.”

Next steps are to have more micro-meetings instead of macro-meetings, such as the seminar, said Matthews.

“For example, we want to reach out to all of the cleaning suppliers, engage them and all of the lawn cutting vendors and engage them. We want to start reaching out to smaller segments and having a more intimate one-on-one meetings as much as possible so they can ask very specific questions that’s relative to their commodity,” said Matthews.