Helping small firms get their fair share of the pie
Bond to Business is a local initiative aimed at boosting chances small, local construction firms can land bids for the $114 million slated for school construction and maintenance projects planned for the next four years.
Voters approved Durango School District 9-R’s 4A Bond Initiative in November 2020 – leading to the infusion in spending that will take care of a decade’s backlog of maintenance projects at schools and finance improvements in school safety and security.
The bond will also finance a $40 million rebuild of Miller Middle School and the construction of a $10 million new career technical education center on the campus of Durango High School.
Emily Meisner, program manager with the La Plata County Economic Development Alliance, said her goal is to identify even the smallest of local construction firms, even a one-person operation, and alert them to the business possibilities in the pipeline for the next four years all financed by the 9-R bonds.
“We want to try to bring in as many subcontractors of any type to meet with the general contractors to start building those relationships, and then figure out what they need to successfully bid for contracts,” Meisner said.
The Economic Development Alliance is looking to identify all regional contractors it might help in making successful bids for 9-R bond projects.
Once that identification process is complete, firms will be invited to training and informational sessions that will be handled by the Southwest Colorado Small Business Development Center.
In addition, executives and owners of firms will meet with officials from Jacobs, a project management company that has been selected by the school district to administer and manage bids and contracts that will go out based on financing from the 4A Bond Initiative.
Mary Shepherd, executive director of the Southwest Colorado Small Business Development Center, said, “We are excited to be working with the Alliance, 9-R and Jacobs to increase local business participation in the 9-R bond construction projects.”
The SBDC will offer its free training expertise, business development assistance and business education programs to help small, local contractors bid and successfully win contracts associated with the 9-R bonds, Shepherd said.
“The Colorado SBDC is kind of the go-to resource for small businesses for technical assistance,” she said. “We provide all kinds of business training, and this really is just an extension of what we already do.”
Consulting services will be offered at no cost to small firms and independent contractors.
The SBDC will look at providing group training sessions to small firms on common stumbling blocks on landing government contracts, but consulting services also can be tailored to one-on-one work, Shepherd said.
“We really see this opportunity for our local small businesses as a way for them to cut their teeth in government contracting, to get some proven experience, which will help them land other government work down the line,” she said.
Meisner said the hunt is on to find firms that might benefit from the assistance that will be offered in the Bond to Business initiative.
“We’re trying to look under every rock to find even the smallest one-person company because if we can get them into this process, it could help other development coming down the pipe,” she said.
Meisner said the goal is to prequalify small companies with Jacobs, the administrator and manager of the 9-R bond-financed school projects, so that small firms can easily submit bids for bond projects.
Once small firms have secured the ability to compete for school maintenance and construction contracts, they will be in place to compete for other government contracts, for instance the multiyear development of Durango Mesa Park, which the city of Durango and La Plata County envision will also be ongoing for the next five years or so, Meisner said.
“The really cool thing is this had never been done before, this level of effort to include local contractors to keep the money local,” Miesner said.
Besides training and educational assistance through SBDC, Miesner said the Bond to Business initiative has partnered with the First Southwest Community Fund and the Region 9 Economic Development District of Southwest Colorado to help small contractors with financing needs.
First Southwest Community Fund, working with Region 9, has established the Construction Capital Fund to provide business loans to small firms if they need to hire employees, if they need to buy equipment or if they need to make other business investments to successfully compete for the 9-R bond projects.
“My 32nd floor elevator speech is the fund will help you man up, skill up or tool up, whatever you need to successfully compete for a bond contract,” Meisner said.
Cass Walker, executive director of the First Southwest Community Fund, said most loans will range from $50,000 to $200,000. The maximum loan amount will be $500,000.
In addition, a line of credit up to $5 million will be available, Walker said.
The loans and line of credit are available to construction firms that are located within 75 miles of Durango.
“Smaller firms are going to need working capital to hire, to train, to buy equipment to compete for the contracts before they get a revenue stream after winning a contract,” Walker said.
First Southwest Community Fund plans to have a page on its website in English and Spanish that will allow firms to apply for loans and lines of credit online. Links to apply for the loans and lines of credits will also be on the websites of 9-R, Region 9, the Economic Development Alliance and the SBDC.
Walker said she anticipates it will take about three to four weeks to process a loan or a line of credit application once it has been submitted.
“I would love for smaller contractors to know that this is accessible, especially folks who haven’t done bonded contracts before. There’s going to be a lot of technical and financial assistance that will be available to help folks take advantage of this opportunity and keep the economic wealth in our region,” she said.