How Houston Wins Big With Small BusinessBy: Peter K Zeller
The city of Houston, Texas, is experiencing a severe drought caused by unrelenting, record breaking, hot dry weather. This has created the conditions in the soil for thousands of water mains to break throughout the metro area. The mains were breaking so fast that the City could not keep up with the needed repairs. The City of Houston was having around 1,100 breaks per week and could only repair around half that number with their existing construction contractors. Citizens were reporting the breaks but the manpower needed to fix such a large amount of damaged water lines was not in place. The amount of water being wasted due to unrepaired leaks kept increasing which in turn threatened more severe water rationing. Mayor Annise Parker had already issued an executive order that the sprinkling of lawns would be restricted to certain days and times of the week with voluntary compliance at first and fines to follow, if needed, to ensure compliance. The Department of Public Works and Engineering, (PWE), was overwhelmed with the need to repair these breaks and conserve the precious water supply. Along with the problems of numerous leaks are wild fires in the metro area, which needed and used more water.
So here is where the City got creative. The City has a program called the, Small Business Development Group, (SBDG), headed up by a resourceful manager Tony Henshaw. Under the auspices of PWE, Tony organized a coffee and doughnut event and invited many of the areas small businesses to attend, along with the prime construction contractors who were already involved in the water leak repairs. At this meeting, which I attended as a small business owner, the department heads of the PWE gave their assessment as to the severity of the problem and the need to expedite the repair of these leaks faster than was occurring.
The City stated that they would expedite small business contracts which typically, were for either $50,000. or $100,000., along with the payments for water main repairs. These payments generally take 60 plus days, however now the invoices would be paid out in 30 days or less. In addition the City would reduce the bonding requirements to ten percent of the contract amount. Furthermore they would introduce the small business men and women to prime construction contractors, who were at this meeting, and if the smaller contractors would rather sub-contract some of the work from the primes they were encouraged to do so.
So, how did all of this work out?The smaller businesses have made a such a strong impact on the water main leaks, that I can safely say the city now has its head above water. The contribution of the small businesses has helped the City to control the emergency water main leaks and the repairs are now ahead of the breaks resulting in a win-win situation for all concerned. This is a great example of how small businesses, encouraged by creative City government programs, have stepped up to the plate and helped Houston control a serious environmental emergency.
copyright: Zeller and Associates 06/27/2010