State's Attorney Aisha Braveboy (D) was the first speaker at the town hall. She thanked local businesses for being the "first to hire returning citizens and victims of crime." (Anthony Tilghman/The Washington Informer)
State's Attorney Aisha Braveboy (D) was the first speaker at the town hall. She thanked local businesses for being the "first to hire returning citizens and victims of crime." (Anthony Tilghman/The Washington Informer)

Over 70 small business owners from across Prince George’s County filled the County Council’s hearing room for a town hall focused on strengthening local procurement on March 7. With most of the County Council members in attendance, some of the other notable attendees included local business owner LaTasha Ward, construction photographer Denise Roberts, lobbyist Addison Pruitt and union leader Anthony Lee Wright. After the town hall, Council Vice Chair Wala Blegay (D) announced a bill that would give the right of first award to County businesses for procurements at $150,000 or less. 

During the town hall, State’s Attorney Braveboy (D) pointed out that local businesses are part of the solution especially by hiring returning citizens and victims of crimes. 

Council Chair Tom Dernoga (D) gave introductory remarks about past constituent concerns regarding procurement issues, and passed the mic to Vice Chair Blegay, who noted the specific hurdles and frustrations of local business owners. 

Blegay added that the town hall was in order to hear the entrepreneurs’ concerns so they can be better addressed. “We are not meeting our goals when it comes to minority businesses,” said Blegay. “Only 6% of the school construction public-private partnership are local minority businesses.”

Jonathan Butler, the director of the Office of Central Services (OCS), gave a briefing on his office’s role. This 250-person service delivery agency deals in procurement, facility and inventory management, and spurs local development. Following a disparity study, a bill passed by At-Large Council member Mel Franklin (D) provided bond authority at 40-70% of project value, rather than the traditional 100%. In 2019, an online certification and compliance system (CCS) was implemented and reduced wait times in applying by 66%. In 2021, the OCS launched The Green Book, a platform exclusive to small and minority businesses that details millions of dollars worth of potential contracts, and a mentor-protege project. 

Dr. Stephanie McMillan, who runs a balloon company in the County, wants to see the process streamlined. Instead of having to contact each agency’s events department, she sought to have a vendor’s meeting but was unable to. McMillan asked, “How can I get to the people who can tell me where to go?” 

Butler recommended she work with the Office of Central Services and to reach out to the supply schedule.

LaTasha Ward, a 17-year business owner, missed the Supply Schedule during her recent campaign for office. “The issue that I experienced with the supply schedule, I don’t have my GSA supply number yet. It can take four to six months.”

The County exceeded all minority procurement goals in 2022, but several business owners and council members sought to go above the minimum required by law. 

“My goal is to work with Council to put in practical legislation to help our minority businesses. We need procurement laws that meet the needs of those we serve,” said Council member At-Large Calvin Hawkins (D) in an interview. 

“It’s important that we make it easier for our small, minority county businesses to do work with the County government. That really is the goal. There are so many roadblocks and barriers that really prevent our own businesses from thriving in our community,” , said Council member Ed Burroughs. “ I hear from business owners all the time that they are more successful outside the county than at home. It’s my hope that specific to minority construction businesses, that we do better work with our labor unions. We want our small businesses to do well and we want their employees to do well. Good pay, retirement, protection from wage theft, it can be a win-win.”

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