Written by Letty Alvarez

San Diego Unified School District is one of the top large urban school districts in the United States, with 226 educational facilities, 13,559 employees, and a $1 billion annual operating budget. Additionally, San Diego Unified is currently underway with an $8.4 billion construction bond program funded by Propositions S and Z and Measure YY. What makes San Diego Unified important to small businesses is its commitment to ensuring that local diverse, small, and underutilized construction-related businesses have viable opportunities to bid on its wide range of construction projects.

Much of this commitment is the responsibility of the district’s Business Outreach team, led by Karen Linehan. Karen’s passion for small business success shows in the way she and her team care for the 1,700 plus contractors in their internal database. Disabled Veteran Businesses have a soft spot in the heart of the outreach team as well as a formal commitment from the district’s Board of Education. Alma Bañuelos, Business Outreach Coordinator, said, “DVBEs are special entrepreneurs. They have already put it on the line for the nation and are now starting and growing their business to contribute even more to society. Our passion and commitment are inspired by these hard-working men and women!”

San Diego Unified has a robust business outreach program and uses various information outlets. However, the database is the main communication tool used to disseminate notices and information about construction opportunities. Alma recommends that any company interested in tracking and bidding district projects should get on the database. She also advises prospective contractors of two additional things: “Follow directions and be patient.” She says contractors have a lot to learn to fully understand how to do business with the district because it is such a big institution. “The process,” she says, “may be daunting because of the insurance, bonding, labor compliance, and other requirements on district projects.” She suggests that small businesses consider starting out as subcontractors to the district’s many primes.

Second, Alma notes the importance of small business certifications. She said that prime contractors are more inclined to work with small business that have certifications, because certified businesses can help primes meet public agency and company participation goals. Certifications are important to note during prequalification with primes. Because certifications can create a path to new subcontracting opportunities with primes and direct contracts with public agencies, the outreach team refers new, qualified contractors to PTAC for help with getting certified and identifying additional government contracting opportunities.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, pre-bid site visits provided prime contractors an opportunity to meet subcontractors and suppliers. Alma explained that maintaining “old school” methods for reaching out is important but embracing new means of communication is also necessary. All business outreach activities for San Diego Unified will continue to be conducted virtually until the pandemic ends and citizens can convene safely in person.

“As stewards of public funds, we understand the importance of small business participation and the impact it has on our entire community,” Alma said. “Our Board of Education has tasked our team with ensuring capital bond projects benefit local communities and that a significant portion of construction dollars are spent on small and emerging businesses. We are absolutely up to the task.”

For more information, email abanuelos@sandi.net, or to register on San Diego Unified’s database, click here.



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