By Ron Leir
If you’re a minority member or woman who runs a business and you want to up your game in Hudson County, then you might want to make it your business to be in Kearny on Sept. 19.
That’s when the county government’s Office of Minority and Women Business Enterprise will conduct a free seminar on “How to do business with Hudson County.”
In past years, the county office has offered the seminar twice a year in Jersey City but this year, for the first time, the county has taken its show on the road, beginning in Union City earlier this year, then North Bergen and now in Kearny, said office director Frances Thompson.
Between now and year’s end, Thompson said the office will conduct an additional 14 seminars on wide-ranging topics geared to the needs of small businesses looking to thrive and grow in harsh economic times.
On Sept. 19, as a sort of one-stop shopping venue, the county will have representatives of its divisions of engineering, finance, law, purchasing, and, of course, minority and women business enterprise, to outline in detail the county’s contract procurement protocol.
They’ll explain the county’s policies and practices, the legal documents required in the state’s open public bidding process, how to interpret bid specifications and, for successful bidders, the process of getting paid.
Owners of businesses dealing in professional services, construction trades and good providers or entrepreneurs who want to learn more about Hudson County’s bidding process and are interested in opportunities to do business with Hudson are encouraged to attend.
Asked how minority- and women-owned businesses have fared in Hudson, Thompson said that three years ago, more than 500 of those type of enterprises had registered with her office.
Today, that census has fallen to 382, with many of the businesses having been casualties of the national recession, Thompson said.
Among the local businesses registered with Thompson’s office are: JRC Construction on Elm Street, Signs By Lynn on Kearny Avenue and United Services cleaning on Forest Street.
The biggest hurdle facing small businesses like these, according to Thompson, is financial wherewithal. Functioning from day to day, being able to collect enough income to pay bills for staffing, rent and supplies within a 30-day turnaround period is often challenging, she added.
Typically, these businesses get by with five or fewer employees and annual income tops out at about $50,000, Thompson said.
Only 75 companies, big and small, do business with Hudson County, with most getting work repeatedly, after they learn the procurement process, Thompson said, and the smaller outfits have a tough time cracking that lineup. Many, she noted, “are intimidated by the government process.”
“We’ve not had any companies (among the minority and women enterprises) other than JRC that have won construction contracts with the county,” Thompson added.
Although the office does what it can to get the word out about business opportunities for minority and women enterprises around Hudson, Thompson said the county can’t compel that a fixed percentage of contracts be set aside for them without having done a “disparity study” documenting that minority- and women-owned businesses aren’t getting a “fair share,” if, in fact, that is the case.
Thompson said that Hudson has never commissioned such a study because it would require hiring outside professionals who can charge as much as $500,000 – money that the financially-challenged county can ill afford.
So, until a study of that magnitude can be done, Thompson’s office will do what it can to support minorities and women in the business world in an effort to place them on an “equal playing field” with the larger contractors and vendors by offering free seminars on a variety of topics, by getting them to apply for state contracts and by putting them in contact with the Small Business Development Center at New Jersey City University.
“We try to reduce the fear of dealing with government,” she said.
The Sept. 19 seminar will be held from 9 a.m. to noon in the third-floor council chambers at Kearny Town Hall, 402 Kearny Ave.
To pre-register, contact Patricia Fulks by phone at (201) 395-6267 or via fax (201) 369- 5287 or e-mail at PFULKS@ HCNJ.US.
For more information, contact Thompson at (201) 395-6267 or e-mail www.hudsoncountynj.org.