San Jose launches program to help small businesses land contracts
A construction worker works on a San Jose housing site in 2019. File photo.

San Jose City Hall is looking to diversify its contracts and prioritize local businesses.

The city’s Public Works Department, which awards some $4 billion in public contracts each year, is hosting a free six-week seminar to help local businesses secure contracts.

Participants in San Jose’s “Construction Academy” will learn how to bid on construction contracts, which include opportunities to build new bridges, wastewater treatment facilities or even the new police training facility.

Vice Mayor Chappie Jones, who leads the city’s Small Business Advisory Task Force, said the program will create more equitable contracting opportunities and keep wealth in the local economy.

“My plan is for this to be ongoing and to institutionalize it where it’s a permanent part of how we do business,” Jones said. “The ultimate goal is to help our small business community, our minority business community, win these contracts, grow their businesses, and ultimately to accumulate wealth that’s going to benefit them, their employees, their families and their communities.”

Last year, only 6% of city contracts went to small businesses. Local businesses were awarded 28% of the dollars.

The city’s task force advocates for more small and minority-owned businesses to land contracts by gathering data to show inequities and recommending that larger projects are broken into small contracts to give local, small businesses a shot.

“If you look at the numbers of where the money is going and where the contracts are going, it’s just a tiny percentage of small and minority businesses that are getting those contracts. It’s not acceptable,” Jones said. “We have to do better and that’s my one of my top priorities in the one year and nine months I have left to see it happen.”

Jesus Flores, president of the Latino Business Foundation Silicon Valley, said many small construction businesses in San Jose are run by Latinos. And small businesses often struggle to get city contracts because of restrictions and confusion about the process.

“The number one obstacle that the small businesses find when they’re even considering bidding on city projects is the length of the process — how long, how difficult it is to apply or bid on these contracts — and sometimes they don’t even know where to go even if the information might be there,” Flores said. “I think (the training program) can be a great success.”

The upcoming seminars will also be translated into Spanish and Vietnamese upon request, Jones said.

Expanding opportunity 

Before launching the academy, Jones said local businesses could only compete for a government contract if they did previous contract work with another city. Those who go through the six-week seminar will bypass that requirement and qualify to bid on contracts.

“We eliminated that barrier,” Jones said.

Small business contracts can generally range from $50,000 to $600,000, according to Jones.

The city is also holding two optional orientation at 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. on April 21 for those who want to participate in the seminar.

Contractors can learn more about capital improvement projects available over the next five years. They will also be able to network with city staff and subcontractors. The deadline to register is April 19.

“As stewards over a multibillion-dollar capital improvement program,” said Public Works Director Matt Cano, “We have a responsibility to not only construct quality projects but also to engage our community in the construction of these projects, thus increasing opportunities for local residents and businesses.”

To register, go to www.sanjoseca.gov/

The seminar series runs from May 5 to June 16 from 4:30 to 7:00 p.m. To register, go to www.sanjoseca.gov/constructionacademy. The deadline to register is April 30.

To see the city’s contract job offerings, visit its bidding page.

Contact Carly Wipf at [email protected] or follow @CarlyChristineW on Twitter.

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