CofC executive says contracts in jeopardy

Published 11:39 am Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Seventeen businesses in Vicksburg and Warren County could lose their ability to compete for some federal contracts if a special small-business designation is allowed to expire, the director of the Vicksburg-Warren County Chamber of Commerce said Monday.

Chamber director Christi Kilroy told the Vicksburg Board of Mayor and Aldermen that the area’s Historically Underutilized Business Zone, or HUBZone, is set to expire in October. She urged the board to help get the designation extended, adding the recent flood might help get the designation renewed.

The board authorized Mayor Paul Winfield to write U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., and other state and federal officials and agencies that could help the county retain the designation.

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According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, HUBZone is a contracting program designed to encourage business development in areas that are traditionally underutilized. It is designed to promote economic development and employment in distressed areas by providing access to more federal contract opportunities.

Vicksburg’s HUBZone includes an area bounded on the west by the Mississippi River, by Main Street on the North, Mission 66 and Confederate Avenue on the east, and on the south by an area north of Bowmar Avenue from the river to Confederate.

“There are federal (budget) set-asides for federal government contracts that only HUBZone businesses can bid on,” Kilroy said, adding that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is one of the federal agencies with HUBZone set asides.

If the county or the city loses its designation, she said, local HUBZone companies will lose their certification and their ability to compete for the federal contracts.

Don Miller, vice president of Riverside Construction, one of the county’s HUBZone businesses, told the board that his company has done several million dollars in work for the Corps under the HUBZone program.

“We do levee work, relief wells and rock work,” he said, adding that the company employs 42 people.

Miller said the company stands to lose a substantial part of its business if the HUBZone status expires. The federal contracts with the Corps, he said, represent a large part of the company’s business.

“It puts us at a disadvantage,” he said. “Another HUBZone company would have to bid on the project and we would have to subcontract.”

It could also mean moving across the river to Mound, La., Miller said, where the company owns land in a HUBZone. He said after the meeting that the company would keep its HUBZone designation because it would be in another zone.

“All we would have to do is notify the SBA of our change of address,” he said. “We’re hoping we won’t have to do that. Riverside Construction has been here a long time. We don’t want to do it, but it took us a year to get our HUBZone designation. We want to keep it.”