phyllis-hope_web.jpgFORT LAUDERDALE — Facing a low number of contracts with black-owned firms, Broward County Public Schools officials hope to engage and educate small business leaders during a community forum next week.

“We’re trying to increase participation with black-owned companies,” said Broward Schools Deputy Superintendent for Facilities and Construction Mike Garretson.

“Our student population is one-third black, one-third white and one-third Hispanic. Ideally, our contracts should reflect the makeup of our school system.”

In general, minority and women-owned companies hold down more than 70 percent of the School Board’s small and mid-sized contracts, Garretson said. But only 7 percent of that business goes to black-owned firms, he said.

The community forum, presented by District Six School Board Member Phyllis Hope, will take place from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 25 at the Kathleen C. Wright Administrative Center, 600 S.E. 3rd Avenue, Fort Lauderdale.

Hope said she has redesigned the forum to respond to feedback from the first forum last year. Some of the more than 100 participants who attended last year’s event asked for more one-on-one help from district staff, and more networking opportunities.

This year, small business owners will have the opportunity to mingle with their counterparts and register with the School Board, Hope said. Because registration requires several steps, School Board staff will be on hand to assist and answer questions for those who are already registered.

“There are small business owners out there who are registered, but they need to follow up to inform people of their product and be out front during the bidding process,” Hope said. “You can’t win it unless you’re in it.”    

Hope said she has also planned an upcoming, free class designed for small business owners. She said she would offer more information about the class during the forum.

“A lot of local businesses are suffering because of the economic downfall,” Hope said. “This is just my way of trying to get more information out to them. When you’re a small business, you always need an extra helping hand.”

Just days after what some economists are calling “Black Monday,” small business owners are looking for that extra boost.

If business behemoths like Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and Lehman Brothers are breaking under economic pressures, small business leaders may have to become more creative.

Judith Debourg, owner of NAPM Enterprises Inc., a commercial janitorial and car care service, said she hasn’t sunk yet. But DeBourg, a black woman, said she also hasn’t acquired any new clients in months, which is not typical for her 11-year-old firm.

DeBourg, who manages a staff of as few as 20 throughout the year, said she grossed more than $400,000 last year.

DeBourg, who is registered with the School Board, said the forum gives her hope that Broward schools will start offering bids for its 12 upcoming school replacement construction projects.

“We, in the janitorial field would like to get an opportunity to work with some of these construction projects,” said DeBourg, who serves on Broward County’s Small Business Advisory Board. “But I never know when the bids are out there. I like the idea of having the big guys meeting with the little guys.”

Photo: Phyllis Hope


WHAT: Minority and Women Business Community Forum.

WHEN: 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 25.

WHERE: Kathleen C. Wright Administrative Center Board Room, 600 S.E. 3rd Avenue, Fort Lauderdale.

COST: Free

CONTACT: RSVP for the forum by calling 754-321-0550 or 754-321-2006.