Several Coahoma County businessmen learned of a new avenue Monday that they hope will lead them to grab a share of the millions of dollars being spent on utility projects within the state of Mississippi.
Brandon Presley, the public service commissioner for the Northern District of Mississippi, told approximately 25 businessmen at the Rest Haven restaurant in Clarksdale that the Hire Mississippi program has the potential to change their fortunes.
Presley said a recent study showed that Mississippi’s five largest utility companies spent a combined average of $817 million each year on operations and maintenance. What got his attention was the fact that 70 percent of that money was going to out-of-state businesses. And the number could be even higher as he said that estimate doesn’t include construction dollars.
Hire Mississippi is aimed at “putting a plug in the jug” and “stopping the drain of dollars leaving our state,” Presley said.
He believes the way for Mississippi small businesses to get those contracts is via the Hire Mississippi website. The utilities taking part in the project are Atmos Energy, Center Point Energy, Entergy, Mississippi Power and Spire Energy.
Every business owner in the state is eligible and encouraged to go to the website and register their business. Those businesses that register will receive bid notices of projects that fit their scope of work and not only for the local area, but for the entire state as well.
“This is aimed at that small business owner starting out,” Presley said. “It’s that guy or girl that starts off with maybe a backhoe and a bulldozer, a four-wheel drive pickup and a Skoal ring in the back pocket that literally believe they have no chance of ever getting a contract with one of our major companies.
“One of the biggest things that we lack in this state when it comes to economic development is pure old hope for the small business person. They just don’t feel they have a chance.”
State law now requires that any time a public utility seeks bids for a contract in excess of $200,000 that every applicable company registered on the Hire Mississippi website receives a notice to bid. Detailed information (who to contact, when the bids are due, etc.) will be provided to the business owner.
“It’s a one-stop shop to find out everything related to that contract,” Presley said of the website. “We want it to be as easy as possible and as user-friendly as possible.”
Information will also be provided to those who do not receive the contract, detailing why their company wasn’t selected. This should only help a company when it submits subsequent bids, Presley said.
Hire Mississippi is in its first year and Monday’s Clarksdale stop was Presley’s eighth information session. A report will be issued in July detailing how many of the state utility projects went to Mississippi companies.
“We’re going to name names. We’re going to call out the winners and we’re going to call out the losers,” Presley said. “I’m bound and determined that we award more of these contracts in-state.”
He said many business owners accept that contracts are awarded in a “brother-in-law deal” and the determining factor is in who you know. Presley said that shouldn’t be the case.
“Companies have become way too comfortable in just doing things the way they’ve always done them. But we’ve got unique problems in this state and we’ve got to take unique solutions to fix it,” Presley said.