T.E.A. time

The Transportation Equity Act could mean billions for minority construction firms

Would T.E.A. time come to a premature end? That was the fear of some minority and women entrepreneurs, concerned that a multibillion-dollar provision in the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Equity Act for the 21st century was about to be eliminated. Only four years after the end of the FCC’s minority business credit, which provided a tax credit to television and radio station owners who sold outlets to minority entrepreneurs, they were faced with losing yet another lucrative business resource.

In essence, TEA-21 is a $217.3 billion investment in America’s infrastructure that could impact most communities in the country over the next six years. A state administered program, TEA-21 bids will be needed on jobs that involve roads and bridges, transit systems and the technology/ computer information highway.

So why is this of critical importance to small business entrepreneurs? Because the Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) portion of the bill requires that no less than 10% of those funds be spent with small business concerns owned and controlled by minority businesses.

“We’re talking billions of dollars here,” says Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Maryland), who sits on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. The 10% provision, which offended some conservative Republicans such as Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, had a tough road to travel as some members led a fight against it. But the effort got strong support behind the scenes. Congressional Black Caucus member Jim Clyburn (D-South Carolina) formed a coalition of conservative, moderate and progressive lawmakers to move the bill forward. At one point, Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater threatened to appeal to President Clinton to veto the legislation if it came to his desk without the provision. The bill passed, but legislators say if minority and female entrepreneurs ignore the program it will be more difficult justifying the need for such a provision in the future. “The big mistake we can make here is to not take full advantage of this opportunity,” warns Slater.

There will be ample opportunities to work on landscaping and neighborhood beautification projects. “This bill will provide opportunities to many minority businesses over the next six years that can literally turn a small company into a medium-size company almost overnight,” says Cummings.

So how do you get started? Begin by making contact with your state’s local transportation agency and metropolitan planning organization. Develop relationships with the policy and decision makers in your state’s congressional and gubernatorial offices who will be deciding how to spend their TEA-21 appropriations. Many state agencies will be soliciting community input. Determine in which communities the work will be available, what kinds of products or services will be required and when the requests for proposals will be posted. “It’s a matter of knowing the organizations and how to market your company,” says Gale Hall, director of business development for Maryland-based Marlaw Systems Technology. “TEA-21 is what gets you to the door, but you have to take the initiative to make sure you continue on.”

For more information, visit DOT’s Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization Website at http://osdbuweb.dot.gov. Or

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