By Bill Cresenzo
Old Dominion University's Business Gateway Center wants to be the first in the mid-Atlantic to open an office that would be dedicated solely to matching women- and minority-owned businesses with lucrative U.S. Department of Transportation contracts.
The center has submitted plans to the department and the Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization to secure a grant worth up to $140,000 per year that would be used to open the office, which would be called the Small Business Transportation Resource Center, said Jerry Robertson, associate vice president and executive director of the Gateway center.
This would be the first such center in the mid-Atlantic and would work with companies in Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky and West Virginia.
Women- and minority-owned small businesses face challenges that their larger counterparts don't when it comes to obtaining transportation department contracts for various work, whether it's laying asphalt or installing lights, Robertson said.
"They don't necessarily have the bonding they need," he said. "They don't have the recourses to do the financials. There could be a lot of reasons that they are a little bit challenging to get in to the transportation arena. So the Department of Transportation set up these resource centers to help them get themselves qualified."
Companies that actively recruit disadvantaged business enterprises are "smiled upon with it comes the U.S. Department of Transportation," he said.
Robertson said he expects to find out next month whether the center wins the grant.
"It's generally enough money to pay somebody to be the program manager and to pay for their travel and a few other expenses," Robertson said, adding that the center would look for someone who has a degree in fields such as engineering or business to run the transportation resource center.
If the center opens, according to the transportation department, it would, among other things:
* Conduct an assessment of small businesses to determine training and technical assistance needs, then contact federal, state and local government agencies "to identify relevant and current information that may support the assessment of the regional small business community transportation needs."
* Collaborate with government agencies to conduct counseling to allow small businesses to become better prepared to compete for and receive transportation-related contract awards.
* Work with banks and other lending institutions to conduct workshops on the transportation department's Short Term Lending Program.
* Provide at least two bonding education programs that will show small businesses how to get bonded and work with local bond agents to provide bonding to at least 10 small businesses.
This would be the second center that the Business Gateway Center would open that targets women. It expects to open its new Women's Business Development Center that will assist women-owned small businesses in securing work and sales.
That center will be run with a $150,000 grant from the Small Business Administration.