Program would aid smaller contractor September seminar will offer advice on competing, networking

July 31, 1998|By Laura Sullivan | Laura Sullivan,SUN STAFF

Anne Arundel County officials are hoping to give small contractors a boost with a program to teach them how to network and compete with out-of-state contractors vying for projects in the area.

The program, a daylong session in September, is the first of a series of similar workshops the county hopes to launch in coming months to help small businesses, many of which are owned by minorities and women.

Industry experts say the workshops couldn't come at a better time.

Homebuilding and contracting are booming in the county, where development has risen steadily for 10 years.

That growth is luring outside contractors from New York, New Jersey and other states into the area to meet the demand.

"We're seeing more consolidation of big companies, and it's getting more competitive out there," said Russell Roeding, executive director of the local chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors, which is co-sponsoring the event. "Our small community-based companies are at a disadvantage."

The seminar will bring in staff of large local companies to offer advice to operators of their smaller counterparts, said Joanne Jackson, minority business enterprise coordinator for the county, who is organizing the program.

The seminar also will offer guidance on accounting, taxes, employee recruitment and other administrative chores small businesses must learn to succeed

"In the construction industry, it really is who you know," Jackson said. "We want to help them get a handle on who's who and what's what.

"The county has a vested interest in these small businesses being successful. If you want to have a healthy economy, you want a certain quality of business and you want them to make money."

Part of the problem many small contractors have, Roeding said, is knowing how to move a small business out of a shoe box and into an office.

"They get lots of work," he said, "but they've never run a business in their life, and that's where they fall down -- particularly in construction where you see very talented professionals, but often they don't know what it takes to run a business."

In addition to dealing with the recent shift toward consolidation, small businesses are facing the biggest shortage of workers in decades.

Roeding said part of the reason is the strong economy that has kept builders busy, but part of it also is the recent image of construction workers as blue-collar and low-end -- an image his association is striving to change.

"A lot of high schoolers today are told they have two options: Go to college or join the Army," he said. "We want to say, 'Wait, we've got a whole industry of opportunity.' "

The county has slots for 30 contractors for the Sept. 26 program.

Contractors must be small or minority- or women-owned, be based in Anne Arundel County and have gross sales exceeding $50,000.

Interested companies may call Jackson at 410-222-7667.

Pub Date: 7/31/98

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