Harrisburg trip significant for small businesses

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In his efforts to renew the call to pass reform legislation benefiting small, minority, women and disadvantaged-owned businesses across the commonwealth, state Rep. Jake Wheatley recently hosted Minority, Women’s, Disadvantaged Business Lobby Day. The day consisted of a press conference announcing disadvantaged business reform legislation at the Capitol Main Rotunda, a reception for attendees, and a roundtable discussion on the topic of creating a fair environment for small businesses in state contracts.

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TRULY CONCERNED—State Rep. Jake Wheatley explains his reformed bill benefiting small and minority businesses in the state. (Photos by Diane I. Daniels)

“This is the day to let your voices be heard,” he said Rep. Wheatley encouraging attendees from across the state to visit representatives’ offices to urge support of the legislation. Joining Rep. Wheatley in the day of activities were fellow legislators and Alexander “Nick” Nichols, president/CEO of the Western Pennsylvania Minority Supplier Development Council, Pittsburgh; Kris Kirk, president and owner of Mentors Consulting and Training, Pittsburgh; Jeffery Lawrence, president/CEO of Forefront Construction, Pittsburgh; Nichol Ross-Giles, interim director, African American Chamber of Commerce, Philadelphia; Reginald Williams, author, facilitator and CEO, Procurement Resources Inc., and a consultant to corporate management and government, Atlanta; Patricia M. Gingrich, president/CEO and business owner, American Personnel Managers and Consultants Inc., Camp Hill; and Leland Nelson, president of the African American Chamber of Commerce, Harrisburg, and president and co-founder of Dirty Dog Hauling.

Wheatley, chairman of the House Select Committee on Minority, Women, and Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Inclusion produced a report in 2009 that included 16 sets of recommendations to ensure participation in state contracts and purchasing from minority-owned, women-owned and disadvantaged-owned businesses. The report was based on input gathered from entrepreneurs, experts, and state officials as he traveled the state conducting public hearings. Some of the recommendations included requiring each Commonwealth agency to identify best practices to significantly increase contracting opportunities for disadvantaged businesses and also establish an aspirational target of 25 percent going to MWEs, WBEs and DBEs; to increase employee size from 100 to 250 employees. Having all state agencies reserve 10 percent of their procurement and contracting dollars for small businesses, including but not limited to MWEs, WBEs and DBEs. Requiring that prime contractors doing business with the state pay subcontractors within five days; to establish a statewide bonding program and mentor/protégé program. Creating greater uniformity and consistency in the state certification process for MWEs, WBEs and DBEs by having the state Department of General Services accept certification from the Pennsylvania Unified Certification Program and having local governments and school districts accept those certifications as sufficient.

Pleased that the House passed the legislation in the last session unanimously, Wheatley explained that the current goal is to advocate for enacting the reforms into law. “We all know that small businesses are the backbone of our economy and they should play a key role in our economic recovery.” Introduced during last session, as House Bill 2149, the Senate failed to act on it.

For session 2011-2012, Rep. Nick Miccarelli has joined Rep. Wheatley in his efforts and they are now introducing a bipartisan bill that will include important provisions from the 10-bill package introduced last session. One change, which the team considers historic consist of including small businesses owned by service-disabled veterans to qualify if the veterans’ discharges were not dishonorable. “This would be the first time in Pennsylvania that this has been done,” said Rep. Wheatley.

Pointing out that working inclusively is key, Williams stressed that African-Americans, Hispanics, veterans, women and disadvantaged entrepreneurs have to join forces to work to get the bill passed. Ross-Giles mentioned that the African American Chamber of Commerce in Philadelphia is working with their members to prepare them to be competitive, assisting them with the certification process and encouraging them to get involved in businesses and jobs related to the green economy.

Majorly concerned about the removal of Peter Speaks as the deputy secretary and special advisor to the governor at the Department of General Services by Gov. Tom Corbett, Nichols said, “We no longer have anyone in the governor’s ear expressing the concerns of minority business owners. The absence of Peter is critical. What is going to happen with that office?”

Due to Pittsburgh Community Services, Inc. sponsoring a bus to Harrisburg for the Minority, Women’s Disadvantaged Business Lobby Day, Pittsburgh was well represented during the day of activities. “This was a great opportunity for us to expose a number of our PCSI clients to the workings of state government and to advocate for increased business by the Commonwealth to minority-, women-, and disadvantaged-owned businesses,” explained Cecelia Jenkins, executive director of PCSI. “This trip was important to our efforts to bring attention to the goals and outcomes of our Micro-Business Institute and its efforts to effectuate support for potential at-risk business owners. It is important to continue to expand the message that business ownership is a form of obtaining income and remains part of our CSBG goals.”

Representative Wheatley said that small businesses need the support of all for his revised house bill to survive and eventually thrive during this difficult economic climate. “It is time to level the playing field for small businesses to compete with larger businesses for state contracts.” He ended the day by pointing out that the Miccarelli-Wheatley bill would help small businesses to grow, which is critical since small businesses provide the majority of jobs. This legislation would ensure that small businesses and minority-owned, women-owned and disadvantaged-owned businesses across Pennsylvania would receive a fair share of the state work funded by the taxes they and their employees pay.

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