Orin Williams Associate Vice Chancellor RCC
Squeezed by a constricting economy, local businesses are searching for ways to compete smarter, uncover new business opportunities and raise gross revenues through efficiencies. As part of that retooling, some companies will turn their attention to markets and jobs farther from their home bases. While this is often necessary, Riverside Community College District (RCCD) recently took steps to make sure that local businesses are aware of projects closer to home.
On a recent Saturday morning, nearly 100 contractors representing 70 companies attended a business development session at Riverside City College. The event was designed to inform local businesses about more than $300 million in upcoming capital improvement projects. It was the first phase of an outreach effort that began when the RCCD Board of Trustees passed a resolution supporting the use of local labor and companies in the construction of district facilities.
We viewed this as a great opportunity to make sure contractors and vendors were familiar with college purchasing procedures, bid requirements and the district's new multiple prime contractor process. We invited more than 500 plumbers, electricians and construction services business owners and principals. Most of the individuals who attended had never done business with the college district.
The morning also gave everyone an opportunity to "put faces to names" and develop personal business relationships. Participants were asked to fill out a vendor form so that the district could update its master contractors list for future bidding opportunities. Beyond that, we learned more about each other's needs and concerns. Questions got asked and answered. And a dialogue developed that will continue long past that morning.
Contractors seemed to really enjoy the day and left with an information packet that containing all the presentations, information about upcoming projects, and key contact information. We promised to email out an evaluation questionnaire to get their feedback on the event. So far, about 20 vendors have returned completed evaluations.
Now, I know that as a businessperson reading this column, you're probably saying, "Okay, sounds good, but what was the bottom line?"
It's a fair question.
While no one left the event with a new contract in hand, that wasn't the intent (or even possible given that RCCD is a public agency). What did occur is that businesses left richer for having attended. For the cost of time invested, they gained insight into significant local projects exceeding $300 million over the next 5-15 years. They learned what is required to compete for RCCD capital projects. They met the project managers and decision-makers for the district. And, finally, they discovered new opportunities.
As one contractor told me, "I came for one reason and ended up adding our name to the list for maintenance and emergency work, as well."
The owner of a local plumbing company appreciated the information about the district's new multiple prime contractor process, which promotes the use of more local subcontractors. Another business manager said he came away with a very "genuine sense that the college wants to keep the work in the community."
As a community college, RCCD benefited too. By extending our outreach to local businesses, we expanded our pool of qualified contractors and vendors; we supported the goals of our Board of Trustees, which is elected to represent the community; and we progressed in one of our dual missions: community and economic development.
Much of what we do is connect the dots between the classroom and the workplace. We think the recent mini conference with local businesses was a great start. We look forward to doing more in the future.
Published: Monday, November 17, 2008