Richland County opens Office of Small Business Opportunity to connect with local entrepreneurs
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Richland County on Wednesday fulfilled its promise to ensure small and local businesses have the opportunity to participate in the $1.07 billion transportation penny program when it unveiled the new Office of Small Business Opportunity.
“Richland County Council created this office to ensure that we’d have the necessary programs available to assist small and local business so they would have the right tools when they apply for these contracts that they’ll be more likely to be successful in these programs,” said Richland County Councilman Norman Jackson.
The 3,100-square-foot office on the third floor of the county’s health center on Hampton Street will house the business development and Small Local Business Enterprise divisions to offer entrepreneurs assistance in starting up a business or become certified to apply for a contract with the county.
The office was established as part of the transportation penny referendum that passed in 2012. One provision directed council to set up an office to give small and local businesses the opportunity to compete for road and greenway projects under the transportation penny program.
Jackson said in the past there was only a 3 percent to 5 percent participation rate of small and local businesses participating in programs to apply for county government contracts.
“What Richland County has created is an office to answer almost every question or every need they have to help them and guide them and walk them through to be successful,” he said.
Businesses also will be able to bid on contracts for other services the county may need in one of five sectors including construction, architecture, professional services, engineering and wholesale services. Businesses will access an online system to sign up for the certification process and apply for contracts. The office also will offer classes, seminars and other educational opportunities to help any startups get off the ground.
The office already has certified 36 businesses to earn contracts for the transportation penny program’s project development team, on-call engineers and dirt road paving program.
“We work very closely with the transportation penny program so we get a snapshot of what those projects are,” said Justine Jones, assistant director of the Small Local Business Enterprise program. “There are a number of projects that are on the priority list. We know what those projects are and when they’re anticipated to start so we can take that information and pass it along to our certified firms so they know well in advance what’s coming down the line.”
Some business owners who attended the reception Wednesday said they thought the office was a show of commitment from the county that there would be equity in the bid process to include small and local firms and keep money flowing in the county.
“The county beginning this office is a beginning of a journey,” said Diane Sumter, president and CEO of professional services firm DESA. “The end result though is through this door we get access, from this access we get opportunity and from that opportunity, I’m hoping that all of us will see that we get work. And that work means increase revenue, continue to hire Richland County citizens, continue to pay taxes, continue to build up our schools and to continue to provide community service.”
County Administrator Tony McDonald said the office initially will be funded by the transportation penny budget but eventually will phase into the general fund. Operating costs of $490,000 have already been used within the first year, according to McDonald.
The Office of Small Business Opportunity officially will open its doors Friday.