It’s good for the economy, it’s great for the environment and it’s a win for everyone involved. Encouraging businesses and citizens to do business with their neighbors, through initiatives like Keep It In Cobb, can strengthen the local economy.
One way the county helps make that happen is through the local government’s “How To Do Business with Cobb” seminars and workshops, which are attended by hundreds of Cobb-based small businesses. In fact, the program has been so successful that it recently expanded to include the Cobb County School District in its traveling pitch: Cobb government departments team up with representatives of the CCSD in after-hours meetings to showcase business opportunities with these two entities.
The brainchild of District 3 Commissioner JoAnn Birrell, Keep It In Cobb is working to help the county’s numerous small businesses plug in to opportunities to provide goods and services to other Cobb Countians. Its goal is also to encourage local citizens and businesses to purchase from local businesses, keeping tax dollars in the county and helping the environment by reducing transportation costs.
Do Business with the County
When Birrell hit the campaign trail, she discovered that the county spends between $7 million and $8 million annually in purchase-order projects of less than $2,000 each. “These projects don’t have to be bid out,” she says. “I didn’t realize that, and I’m sure small business owners didn’t either, so we began looking for ways to encourage local businesses to register online as vendors.”
She created a committee to move the initiative forward—an independent group that receives no government funding—and in the summer of 2011, conducted the first “How To Do Business with Cobb” seminar at the county’s Safety Village. Two workshops in 2011 led to five more in 2012, and by 2013, the committee had taken the show on the road, with seminars taking place in various locations around the county. Most were standing-room only.
Each session begins with a PowerPoint presentation that includes information about how to register online as an approved vendor. It also walks attendees through the bid process. Afterwards, various county department purchasing staff man tables and interact with small-business representatives about their needs and services.
Mark Zangari, who owns Dollar Wise Cartridge, a printer cartridge, ink and toner business based in Kennesaw, is one of the many local business owners who has benefitted from this initiative. “JoAnn’s done amazing work for small businesses in Cobb,” says Zangari. Zangari founded his firm in early 2010 after a career in real estate and construction. He participated in the first-ever “How To Do Business with Cobb” seminar in the summer of 2011 and shortly after won his first contract with the county.
“Within 30 days of attending, we had our first contract with the county to provide ink, toner and cartridges to several of the departments,” he says. “Now we’re working with the Cobb County Tag Office, Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs and the Communications Office. It’s a growing account.”
Zangari explains that Dollar Wise Cartridge serves as a back-up supplier to the county’s office supply contractor; the fees paid for his work come from the county’s discretionary spending account. He says the relationship with the county’s purchasing department through the “How To Do Business with Cobb” workshops is the key.
“The people in purchasing from the various departments come to these after-hour sessions on their own time to meet business owners in the county and help them learn how to do business with the county government,” explains Birrell. “The potential is amazing for businesses here and we’re working to make it easier to do business with the county.”
Her hard work is paying off. “The county makes it very easy to do business with them,” Zangari says. “These relationships wouldn’t be possible without the involvement and commitment of the personnel in these departments. These employees sacrifice their evenings, after working all day, to come out and meet business owners. It’s simply amazing.”
Putting It In Black and White
Shortly after Birrell took office, she worked with the Board of Commissioners to help make it easier for Cobb-based businesses to land work with the county. She formed a purchasing committee and spearheaded the revision of a county ordinance to allow for local business preference in vendor selection. Approved Cobb-based vendors must have been in business in the county for at least one year, be licensed with the county and be current on their taxes. The change in the ordinance was unanimously passed by the Board of Commissioners.
The county’s website offers detailed information about how to work with local government entities. From online registration to a 12-page purchasing manual, the site is user-friendly and informative. It even includes a frequently asked questions document that focuses on helping businesses interface with the county, answering basic questions from how to become a vendor to details of the sealed bid process.
On the site, business owners can read success stories, research bid opportunities and browse a list of available annual contracts. As the “How To Do Business with Cobb” program expands, potential suppliers will also be able to learn about opportunities with the Cobb County School District.
“I’m very impressed by how easy it is to work with the county’s employees,” Zangari says. “They’re responsive and helpful, and our experience has been phenomenal.” Dollar Wise Cartridge’s ongoing relationship with purchasing has benefitted the county as well. The company offers a discount on its products and services for early payment. “We get paid in less than 30 days,” Zangari says. “The purchasing department is easy to communicate with and makes it convenient to do business with them.”
Keeping It Local
John Loud, founder of LOUD Security is another success story, but his experience cuts both ways. Not only does his company do work for the county, but he’s committed to supporting local businesses as well. About a year ago, he and his staff attended a security conference in California and employees encouraged him to purchase nice jackets for their brand to take home and wear on the job.
“The vendor selling them was based in New York, but I decided to see if someone in Cobb, where we’re based, could supply them to us,” he says. “We found a vendor locally in Acworth and kept the business here. It’s good for our fellow business owners and it’s good for the economy. I’ve always believed in keeping business relationships local.”
Loud, a former Delta Air Lines flight attendant, started LOUD Security 18 years ago. However, his becoming a vendor for the county is fairly recent. Late in 2013, he attended a “How To Do Business with Cobb” workshop and soon landed a contract to monitor nearly 150 buildings within the county. With more than 50 employees, the firm does residential and commercial security systems and monitoring, installs home theaters, whole-home audio, video surveillance, fire systems and automated controls.
In the meantime, he’s a huge proponent of buying local and selling local, as well as supporting and encouraging business development for smaller companies. He’s been active in the Kennesaw and Acworth Business Associations, serving in leadership positions with both groups.
Zangari also supports local businesses, sharing his leadership abilities with several business associations in the county, including the West Cobb Business Association and the Marietta Business Association, where he currently serves as president.
Both Loud and Zangari have served as ambassadors for Keep It In Cobb and now both are on the organization’s steering committee, which includes about a dozen business and community leaders.
“You know that buying from Cobb-based businesses really is a win-win,” Loud says. “For every dollar you spend here, a penny of that money goes to support the schools and another penny goes to support parks. You’re helping keep local businesses strong, and you’re doing good for the community. It just makes sense to Keep It In Cobb.” With Cobb County and its government leading the charge and providing support for local businesses, the Keep It In Cobb initiative is sure to thrive.