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County promotes Local Small Business Initiative
2009 saw few take advantage of plan
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Forsyth County News

For more information on the Local Small Business Initiative, call Forsyth County’s purchasing department at (770) 888-8872 or visit the department online at
Forsyth County officials hope that the recent extension of a program aimed at fostering local businesses generates more interest in 2010.

Launched last year, the Local Small Business Initiative gives a slight edge to county-based businesses when bidding on local government projects.

Essentially, if two companies bid on a project, the county would choose the local business’s bid as long as it was not more than 3 percent higher than an out-of-county bidder.

Commissioner Patrick Bell said he came up with the initiative “as a way to keep as much business in the county as we can.”

“Not as many people have taken advantage of it as I had hoped,” he said. “I just wish more small businesses would look at and monitor the bids that are going out and try to get on that small business program.”

Just three businesses have qualified for the plan since it took effect in April 2009. In December, the county commission voted 5-0 to extend it through 2010.

To date, Cumming Printing, Alpha Office Products Inc. and Johnson Landscapes have qualified, with contracts ranging from about $21,000 to $450.

“It does help,” said Alpha Owner Walt Woliver. “Counties are losing money and losing tax revenues and everything else, so it’s just something that I think in the long run helps the county. It helps the people in the county and it gives you ownership of your county.

“If you’re going to do business and pay the same price or less, why not keep it in the county?”

Bell said the county may pay up to 3 percent more for a higher bid, but keeping the business in the county makes the investment neutral.

“The county actually gets that money back with sales tax revenue,” he said. “They’re employing our citizens, who are taxpayers, who are spending money.”    

However, just being a local business isn’t enough to qualify for the program. There are several requirements for eligibility.

Among them, businesses must have 25 or fewer employees, 33 percent of whom live in the county.

In addition, the business must have a banking relationship with a Forsyth bank branch and submit an affidavit with each bid.

Even if businesses do meet the criteria, the initiative is limited to projects and purchases less than $100,000.

Bell said that could be part of the problem, as annual contracts typically push many bids over the limit.

To help businesses qualify, he suggested it may be better in the future if bids could be by individual purchase or broken down into quarters.

No one has expressed concern over the rules, but Bell said he’s open to business and community feedback.

Lewis Ledbetter, owner of Cumming Printing, noted bids can come from anywhere in the state, which can be a competitive challenge.

“Whether they give the business to me or not, they should give it to businesses in Forsyth County that could put people to work in Forsyth County,” said Ledbetter, who is also a Cumming city councilman.

Woliver said he learned about the county’s initiative through the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce.

Because the county’s budget is so limited, Bell said it relies on the chamber to spread word of the incentive.

Chamber President and CEO James McCoy said he’s going to continue making sure his members know the opportunity is available.

“The longer they can extend it, the more folks are likely to participate,” he said. “Sometimes [3 percent] can make all the difference when you’re putting a bid together for a governing entity, and obviously it has made a difference.

“The whole idea is to help give local small businesses an advantage and them having any advantage helps enormously.”