Asian chamber program looks to open contract opportunities for airport…


Small businesses owned by women and minorities can get an up-close lesson next month on how they can bid on contracts related to the ongoing expansion work taking place at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.

The Greater Austin Asian Chamber of Commerce will host the Connect Forum Airport Opportunities session at 1:30 p.m. on Feb. 12 at the Asian American Resource Center on Cameron Road. The free event is open to the public and is part of the chamber’s long-running Connect Forum program that promotes ways for Asian and other minority business owners to do business with the city through its procurement process that seeks to increase participation by women- and minority-owned businesses.

The event will go over the in-process and future expansion plans at the airport and what opportunities companies in all sectors will have to become a possible vendor. Attendees will also learn about the security clearances needed to do business with the airport, as well as the registration needed to do business with the city in general.

Marina Bhargava, chief executive officer of the chamber, said many entrepreneurs who have recently arrived in Austin from Asia have the skills to provide services to the city or state government but are unaware of the registration and other requirements to become a government vendor. She said traditional obstacles such as awareness and poor access to growth capital make it difficult for minority-owned businesses to operate with the staff and production capacity needed to compete for government contracts. Given that, she said the city should look at breaking some of its contracts for large projects into smaller pieces so that well-established prime contractors aren’t able to continually take advantage of their track record.

“One of the things we’ve talked to the city, the state, Austin ISD and (Austin Community College) about is to break up the contracts a little bit because the projects can be tens of millions or hundreds of millions, and for a small business who is interested in getting work it’s hard for them to make that jump,” she said. “They’re trying to make partnerships and connections with the prime contractors to get little pieces of them, but if the city could divvy up those pieces so the contracts are in smaller bits, that will make it easier for small companies to bid for and win them.”

This week City Council is expected to approve a new five-year study of the participation rates in its contracting process by women- and minority-owned businesses. It is expected that study will find an ongoing disparity between participation rates and the city’s overall population of the representative groups.

Rather than the proposed multibillion-dollar expansion that is being sketched out from the airport’s 2040 master plan, Bhargava said the February session will be more focused on the near-term needs so that interested businesses know what kind of staffing, equipment or other plans they would need to make to scale up for the work.

ABIA spokesperson Mandy McClendon said contracting for the larger expansion is still far away.

“We’re still establishing what the phasing, sequencing, and financing of these projects will look like,” she wrote in an email. “Right now, we’re working to educate folks on how to get ready for these opportunities when they come along but we don’t have a timeline for when they’ll go out to bid just yet.”

Chamber member Yusuf Ujjainwala, owner of CMIT Solutions of Austin East, said that while he’s attended Connect Forum sessions on how to become a registered city vendor, the process can seem overwhelming. He said many minority business owners would benefit and likely bid on city contracts if there were formal workshops to help guide them through the registration process.

“The execution part of the city’s (procurement) program could improve. Once I got the initial flyer it seems pretty overwhelming, and you realize it’s going to take some time and you want to get other things done before I spend my time and energy on handling the certification,” he said.

“Some help in that regard would be helpful, to get people started, make the steps more clear and explaining the timeline so we know what kind of effort and resources are needed to do this well. Having a workshop on this where you attend two or three sessions and get it done would work well, because figuring it out on your own is harder.”

Photo by Zhao Shouren made available through a Creative Commons license.

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