Thursday, March 22, 2001

Ballpark contracts: Tough talk

County demands inclusion effort

By Dan Klepal
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Hamilton County officials say they are going to get tough with contractors building Great American Ball Park, demanding they document their efforts to hire small businesses and firms owned by women and minorities as subcontractors.

        The participation rate in the county's small-business program is 12 percent of the more than $80 million in contracts handed out so far. The county's goal is to award 15 percent of the $280 million in ballpark contracts to small businesses.

        The county is particularly concerned about the number of small businesses headed by women and minorities. Women-owned companies have fared the worst, getting 1.8 percent of the pie ($1.5 million), while minority-owned businesses have done slightly better at 3.5 percent ($2.8 million).

        County Administrator Dave Krings said Wednesday that the firms bidding on ballpark contracts will have to outline their plans to hire small businesses — including those owned by minorities and women — as subcontractors.

        That information will then be weighed, along with the bid amount and the firm's ability to do the work, and presented to commissioners before the contracts are awarded.

        “We'll weigh price, performance, cost and small-business performance,” Mr. Krings said. “It's not an easy translation; it's a policy decision.

        “But (commissioners) will be given the information to make that policy decision.”

        Mr. Krings said he has told the county's project team — project manager Parsons Brinckerhoff and construction manager Hunt Construction — that the percentages have to get better.

        “I made it clear to them that the current numbers need to be improved, and they have made significant commitments,” Mr. Krings said. “Those commitments were part of the reason they were hired.”

        Jim Curry, interim executive director of the African-American Chamber of Commerce, said the county's heart is in the right place. But he's not sure the county's program will work.

        Mr. Curry also said the county's goal should be more along the line of 50 percent participation by small business and 15 percent participation by minority-owned business.

        “I really have a problem with the 15 percent goal. If we can't meet that, then we really have a problem,” Mr. Curry said. “There needs to be more teeth in the county's program.

        “It's as simple as saying: "This is our guideline. If you don't meet it, then your bid is no good and you won't work for us.'”

        Commissioners stopped short of saying that. Rather, small-business participation will be one factor that is considered.

        “We have provisions that will sharpen the program's teeth,” project manager Arnie Rosenberg said. “We're going to require the information at bid time, so the county knows in advance they will meet the goal.”

        Mr. Curry said prime contractors need to build alliances with small businesses in the area. They have the right to negotiate prices with subcontractors rather than going through a bidding process. That needs to happen, he said.

        “The simple solution is partnerships,” Mr. Curry said. “The responsibility lies with the county to go to the prime contractors and say: "Make it happen.'”


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