Business owners in Prince George’s County’s 7th District recently received critical information on how to obtain county contracts and expand their bottom line.
The Suitland Action Team, led by longtime civic leader Elsie Jacobs, convened a meeting on June 19 at the Windsor Crossing Apartment Complex in Suitland to discuss how Black businesses in the county can get more government contracts.
Jacobs didn’t mince words about the purpose of the meeting.
“I want more contracts for people who look like me in the county,” she said. “I want to see this happen now.”
Prince George’s County Council members Rodney Streeter (D-District 7) and Mel Franklin (D-At Large) attended the meeting while Calvin Hawkins (D-At Large) sent an aide, Christopher Stevenson, to take notes. Maryland Del. Darryl Barnes (D-District 25), Maryland state Sen. Melody Griffith (D-District 25) also attended the meeting and former Councilwoman Camille Exum (D-District 7) popped in to hear what her former constituents had to say.
District 7 lies in the western part of Prince George’s County and much of its borders the District. In addition to Suitland, District 7 encompasses areas such as Seat Pleasant, Capitol Heights, Temple Hills, Hillcrest Heights, Marlow Heights and portions of Forestville and Oxon Hill.
The Urban Institute published a report, “Racial Inequities in Prince George’s County 2011 2015,” that said District 7 has the largest percentage of Blacks in the county at 90 percen, with only three percent White.
Such statistics have activists like Jacobs suspicious that the county government, no matter what administration and the county executive, doesn’t prioritize District 7, particularly in the area of economic development.
Fallon White, one of the Black business owners at the meeting, cited several examples of how she “played by the rules” and did what she needed to in order to be in a position to get more contracts, only to be outbid and, in some cases, ignored.
“That is not fair to me,” White said. “I pay my taxes, I do what I am supposed and I’m not getting treated right.”
Franklin said he understood some of the difficulties in getting county contracts but offered an explanation.
“Black businesses in the county need to get organized,” he said. “If you want a response from government, it is better when you come to us [government officials] in numbers.”
In the second portion of the meeting, Miranda Jackson, who serves as the county’s minority business enterprise compliance officer, gave the entrepreneurs a bit of advice.
“First of all, when you go out to promote your business, remember that person’s name and maintain contact,” Jackson said. “You never know when that contact may help you get business. Second, get on as many county databases as you can. Some counties in Maryland have one central database but we don’t have that in Prince George’s County. Also, make sure that I know your name and what you do because I deal with contractors constantly.”
David Fisher, who works as a supplier diversity manager at Hensel Phelps, said getting certified as a business enterprise remains the best way to be considered for county contracts.
“Get certified, go to industry meetings and build individual relationships with contractors and government officials,” Fisher said.
Fisher told White that “this game ain’t fair” and the good ol’ boy networks exist.
“You should go into this like it is a game,” he said. “When you go to a business function, give people your cards and follow up the conversation. It’s all about being engaged and take the time to build relationships.”
Fisher also encouraged entrepreneurs to get bonded if necessary.
“Hensel Phelps mandates that any transaction over $50,000 requires a bond,” he said.
Mary Battle, who works as a business analyst for the county’s Supplier Development and Diversity Office, urged the business owners to seek county certifications because “contracts can be gotten in Prince George’s County.”
“Any project over $500,000 is required to have a subcontractor at the level of 40 percent,” Battle said.
James Stewart Smith of the financial institution FSC First urged the business owners to emphasize to bankers “what you do well and not say that you are a woman-owned, minority-owned business. Who cares?”
He said good personal credit helps when asking for a business loan, as does patience with the loan process, noting that it could take 30 to 45 days.
“Be sure you have finances in order before you come to us or a bank,” he said. “I have money to lend.”