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28 Effectiveness first the company began quoting as a subcontractor on smaller contracts. With CDOT's help, the company grew RIDOT began its loan program in 2003 with a single equip- from quoting on $50,000 jobs to quoting on $200,000 con- ment loan, and in the years since then the program has taken tracts, and recently competitively won a $2 million concrete off. The department now has about a dozen loans outstanding project as a prime contractor. at any given time. Although Rhode Island's traditionally underutilized DBE What Works, What Does Not firms are not yet at parity with the more established DBE firms, the loan program has made a difference. The program has Selecting which firms receive the assessment and targeted also been successful in recruiting new firms in areas where assistance is key to the program's success. The BOWD Rhode Island traditionally has not had any DBE firms certi- program had an application process, and DBE firms had to fied, such as catch basin cleaning. RIDOT has been able to meet requirements such as having been in business for a assist DBE firms in purchasing the equipment needed for certain number of years and actively bidding on CDOT new types of work. projects. CDOT's current program relies more on the judgment of CASE EXAMPLE #3: COLORADO DEPARTMENT staff members. It was noted that business-savvy owners are OF TRANSPORTATION: ONE-ON-ONE more likely to be successful in the program; some firms ASSESSMENTS AND CUSTOMIZED TRAINING selected in the past where the owners lacked that quality were not successful. The Colorado DOT (CDOT) began using this strategy as part of the Business Opportunity and Workforce Development Today, CDOT staff reaches out to DBE firms with this (BOWD) program, which started in the state in 2007. Col- type of assistance at several different points. Staff works with orado was chosen by the FHWA as one of several states to newly certified firms that are enthusiastic about bidding and pilot the BOWD program, which combined workforce devel- have strong applications, helping these emerging firms under- opment and business management assistance. stand the bidding process and ensuring that, for example, the firms are building profit into their bids. In addition, they help The key to the BOWD program was that CDOT targeted DBE firms that have been successful as small contractors just a few of the state's 300 DBE firms, with resources tai- move to the next level. lored to their needs rather than providing classroom train- ing that may be more useful for some DBEs than others. CDOT staff also monitor bids on current construction proj- CDOT initially selected 20 DBE firms to participate in the ects and reach out to firms at critical points, such as when a BOWD program, and added companies in the program's firm wins a bid as a subcontractor for the first time, wins a second year. larger bid than usual, wins a bid after struggling on a previous project, or when a firm has bid repeatedly but has not won a Once the BOWD program was no longer federally funded, contract. At these points, CDOT may decide to initiate an CDOT decided to continue those aspects of the program that assessment if a firm has not yet had one. DBE firms also con- staff believed was particularly valuable. tact CDOT for assistance if they encounter difficulties once a project has begun. Effectiveness To provide the technical assistance these firms need, CDOT contracts with several consulting firms that have CDOT points to successes with individual clients in gauging expertise in areas such as business management, bidding/ the effectiveness of this program. One participant in the pro- estimating and proposal writing, financial and bonding gram came to CDOT as a very small concrete company that issues, and marketing. Each consulting firm is qualified to had had small successes and was looking to move to the next perform the assessments and CDOT oversees these firms level. Through the BOWD program, CDOT consultants per- closely. formed an in-depth assessment of the company's strengths and the areas where the owners could benefit from training, A key part of this technical assistance is getting DBE firms and then tailored assistance to meet those needs. acclimated to the elements involved in a CDOT project, such as the paperwork required for a federal-aid highway project. CDOT encouraged the company owners to take advan- Although there are other small business resources that may be tage of resources available through the Hispanic Contractors able to help a firm with business development in general, it was Association and the Colorado Contractors Association, and pointed out that the ability to help firms succeed on CDOT proj- encouraged them to create partnerships with other firms. At ects specifically is a service unique to the department itself--
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29 and therefore a valuable way for the department to spend its Looking Ahead supportive services dollars. It was noted that the current assessment process is less for- CDOT staff is pleased with the program's results. In the mal than the one used under the BOWD program, which was future they may explore tracking the program's successes a very detailed written assessment that could take a full day or more quantitatively, such as by analyzing the achievements of more. The current assessment process allows CDOT to get to firms that have been through the program and noting increases the root of a firm's needs quickly and then mobilize the state's in how often they bid, how many contracts they win, and the resources to address them. size of those contracts.