Meet King County’s Small Business Advocates

Four years ago King County Executive Dow Constantine issued an Executive Order that aimed to reform the County’s procurement and contract business processes, and included a goal of providing greater opportunities for small, disadvantaged, and minority- and women-owned businesses to compete for and obtain County contracts.

As we get ready to celebrate National Small Business Week from May 12 – 16, we spoke to some of King County’s small business advocates in the Business Development and Contract Compliance group in the Department of Executive Services to see what the County is doing to make it easier for small firms to do business with King County while helping departments and agencies get the most out of the skills and expertise of local small businesses.

“If you’re a small business, the idea of doing business with government can seem daunting and complicated, and many are unsure of how to navigate through County processes,” said Sandy Hanks, Business Development and Contract Compliance, Manager, Department of Executive Services. “We’re the one-stop shop that is willing to take the hand of that small business owner, guide him or her through the process, with an eye on increasing our small business participation.”

The Executive Order has done a great job at spurring our use of not only small businesses, but also minority- and women-owned businesses. The 2012 program data shows that the County is making it easier for vendors and contractors to do business with King County and providing greater opportunities for small businesses to compete for and obtain contracts. For example:

  • There was a 52% increase in the number of certified SCS firms from 1,115 in 2010 to 1,694 in 2012
  • Certified SCS participation in construction contract awards increased from 13% in 2010 to 22% in 2012
  • Certified SCS participation in consulting services contract awards rose from 9% in 2010 to 16% in 2012.

One reason for that success is the role that Sandy’s team plays in working with departments and agencies before contracts are advertised to ensure that small businesses have the opportunity to compete for County contracts.

“Any contract that County agencies let that are formally advertised on the County’s Procurement website for competition is reviewed by our office and we look at the scope for what are the subcontracting opportunities,” said John Trausch, a Contract Specialist III with DES. “We work with agencies to consult with them to break that project out into elements that afford greater subcontracting opportunities.”

To access contracting opportunities and to take advantage of incentives and requirements for their participation as a small business with the County, businesses must first apply for certification as a small contractor or supplier (SCS). Applications include information about the firm’s size and financial information about the business and its owners’, which is reviewed by the Business Development and Contract Compliance team to determine whether that business meets the eligibility criteria set by the County in each business category.

Once a business is approved for SCS certification it receives a letter of approval and is included in an online directory of certified firms, which is used by other participating government agencies, as well as prime contractors when they’re looking for SCS businesses to help them meet a specific required percentage of participation for their use on County contracts, or when they’re looking for small firms to help them with other non-government jobs. The certification is regional and applies to opportunities not only on King County contracts but also on Port of Seattle, Sound Transit and Seattle Colleges (formerly Seattle Community Colleges) contracts.  Our goal is to expand the one-stop small business certification to other public agencies.

One of the best outcomes that certification offers small businesses is the access to contracting opportunities it provides, says Contract Specialist II Mary Rainey. “When we first launched the program, one of our engineering firms that applied for and was approved for certification early on said ‘Wow, Mary, it’s taken me years to make these connections! I do the same work that I did before but I couldn’t get the doors of any of the big primes open.’ So you still have to show that you can do the work, but it can open the door. And that firm quickly grew out of the business size threshold because of access to those opportunities that were there but weren’t accessible previously.”

The program also means a better result for departments and agencies.

“You get a better quality outcome when you have that consultation upfront with us,” Sandy said. “We’re trying to help departments incorporate the County’s Equity and Social Justice (ESJ) principles into their purchasing decisions and to anticipate that next step so that when they’re looking for that widget or service again, they will remember that the County has a certified pool of small contractors and suppliers that are available to them for use.”

The other outcome is more economic opportunities for people in our region.

“As much as it’s an equity and social justice effort, it’s also an economic development effort,” John said. “It’s about creating jobs for local residents and helping those businesses thrive in a tough economy.”

Nominations for the Executive’s Small Business Awards opened May 1 and run through June 30. If you know of a small business that you think should be recognized by the Executive, we’d like to hear from you. Nominations are open now – find out more.