Pitco will now target `disadvantaged’ firms | AspenTimes.com

Pitco will now target `disadvantaged’ firms

Pitkin County has established a new program to bolster participation of minority- and woman-owned business in its transit programs.

The county’s new Disadvantaged Business Enterprise program isn’t a home-grown affair, however. It was established Wednesday by 4-0 vote of the county commissioners after they learned it was a requirement to receive some grants from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The new program means the county will increase its efforts to include so-called disadvantaged businesses when contracting for consulting and legal services, equipment, maintenance, manufacturing and other supplies on Department of Transportation-assisted projects. It does not apply to other county services and contracts.

Only two projects will be affected next year – the purchase of Roaring Fork Transit Agency buses and the Roaring Fork Railroad Holding Authority’s ongoing investment study for the rail corridor.

The program does not set quotas. Instead, it will use “race-neutral and race-conscious” methods to meet a target of 5 percent participation.

Those methods include educating prime contractors about the program and encouraging them to subcontract some tasks to DBE firms they would normally perform themselves. Other methods include assisting DBEs with bonding and financing, providing technical assistance, mailing information about bid opportunities to qualified businesses and providing information in foreign languages. The county will also set up a program to assist start-up firms in fields in which DBE participation has been low.

The 5 percent target is based on the experience of the Pitkin County Airport, where DBE-qualified businesses contribute 5.09 percent of the work on federally assisted projects.

To qualify for the program, a business must be owned by a minority or a woman and have a net worth of less than $750,000.

According to data compiled by the U.S. Census Bureau, there are 980 businesses located in Pitkin, Eagle, Garfield and Mesa counties that perform the kinds of services typically needed by organizations like RFTA and the holding authority. Of those, only 17 – or 1.7 percent – meet the ownership and net-worth requirements to qualify for the new program.

“I’m not sure I understand how this works. If we’re contracting for the manufacture of buses, aren’t there only a few companies that build buses that we can talk to?” asked Commissioner Shellie Harper.

“You’re right about that,” said Tom Newland, RFRHA director and, now, the DBE liaison. “There are only a few companies that build buses, but there are a lot of companies that build the parts that go into them.”

Newland said the county, which is the contracting agency for RFTA and RFRHA, could choose to work only with bus manufacturers that have their own DBE programs in place. And with only 1.7 percent of area businesses qualifying for the program, the county, like the airport, will need to apply the policy in its dealings with businesses located on the Front Range and out of state if it hopes to reach the 5 percent target.

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