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Expo connects local small businesses with utilities companies

on December 2, 2010

On Wednesday, more than 300 people attended the Oakland Small Business Expo and Matchmaking Fair at the Asian Cultural Center located in Chinatown. Early in the morning, the crowd of businesspeople waiting for the expo to open snaked in a long line past a nearby garage.

The expo, co-sponsored by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) and Pacific Gas Electric Company (PG&E), aimed to help connect small businesses to contract and procurement opportunities from utility companies and government agencies. Any small businesses interested in working with the industry were free to attend.

According to the handout provided at the expo, all state agencies, departments, boards and commissions are under executive order to do at least 25 percent of their procurement and contracts with small businesses. “This is not about policy; this is about getting business,” CPUC commissioner John Bohn said to the expo participants. “By the time you leave, you’ll have a name, an address and a contact of each the utility.”

About 30 companies and government agencies tabled the expo, where participants could talk to their representatives and exchange contact information. At the same time, 12 organizations, separated in three smaller rooms, were tabling for the matchmaking session. Attendants could register for a ten-minute one-on-one meeting with up to three procurement specialists from utilities such as PG&E, AT&T and CalTrans.

“What this function allows us to do is have contact information that normally we’ll never be able to get on our own,” said Andy Boom from ABS Presort, a printing and mailing company based in Modesto, California. Lisa Nicol, who runs a law firm in San Francisco, had her private appointments scheduled for the afternoon. In order to have an earlier slot, she simply waited in the room for AT&T, Comcast and Verizon, hoping someone ahead didn’t show up.  “Otherwise we are sitting here for two hours,” said Nicol. “But it’s worth it.”

But it seemed like most people made their appointments on time. “Events like this are very important, ”said Tracy Thomson of San Francisco information technology company TRIVAD, who just finished her meetings. “You get to establish relationship, get contacts and have access to the new contracts.” Thomson said although the company she represents has done business with those communication companies before, it’s always good to “put your name out there” because even for the same companies, different bids will come from different departments with different processes.

The expo also provided four workshops to educate workers from small businesses about topics such as social media marketing, access to capital and business opportunities generated by the state’s green energy industry.

“With the defeat of Proposition 23, Californians once again expressed their commitments to our ambitious environmental goals,” CPUC commissioner Nancy Ryan stated in the expo’s press release. “As we are moving forward investing billions of dollars in clean energy we should make sure that small businesses will also benefit from these investments.”

Ryan’s colleague Bohn believes that it’s extremely important for small businesses to gain access to utilities’ contracts. “They will be leaders in this whole green revolution,” said Bohn on Wednesday, describing the growth and diversification of utilities as one of the bright spots in this economic downturn. “It goes all the way from somebody that mows the lawn or washes the windows to people who supply complicated consulting or evaluation service,” Bohn said, stressing the wide range of opportunities that utilities can provide for small businesses.

“It doesn’t matter what your business is,” said Makenzie Kelly of Corporate Edge, a San Francisco based management consulting company that had not previously contracted with utilities. “You just bring it here and give it a shot.”

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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