Like many construction contractors, Willie McGary was hit hard by the real estate meltdown a few years ago.
“The jobs dried up, and then the competition became overwhelming for what was left,” McGary said.
What was left in the West Contra Costa County area were mostly public sector projects, and the qualification process for bids left small independent contractors like McGary overwhelmed. “It’s a whole new world,” McGary said.
It was this reality that prompted the West Contra Costa Unified School District to launch a series of seminars called Small Business Boot Camp, where Bay Area contractors and other small business operators attend weekly night classes aimed at readying them to make bids on public projects.
“It can be a complicated process, so we give them the tools to succeed,” said David Page, the district’s master scheduler for construction projects.
At a class last month, more than 40 students – mostly independent contractors and business owners – heard a two-hour lecture from public contract attorneys on prequalification processes and public contract law. The attorneys laid out in detail the dozens of prerequisites students would have to meet in order to bid for competitive contracts on everything from facility repair to building new schools. As part of the class, students filled out lengthy forms with the attorneys’ help, which they could use later when competitive projects go out to bid.
The students in the course are scheduled to graduate with certificates on June 5. Another course will likely start in the summer.
The idea for the courses was developed by Jacqueline Majors, a community outreach specialist contracted by the WCCUSD. Majors said she had heard increasing concerns from contractors and school district officials about the difficulty in slogging through the complex paperwork to get projects off the ground.
“We have strong demand for these classes, and the feedback has been positive in terms of the tools the students are getting,” Majors said. “We plan to have more in the future.”
The 10-week course is hosted at the district’s Facilities Operations Center at 1300 Portrero Ave. Upon graduation on June 5, students will receive a certificate.