Small businesses have traditionally had a more difficult time getting government contracts than their bigger brethren, both nationally and in California.

Two years ago, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger issued an executive order to all state agencies to boost small business participation in state government contracts. The order set out a goal that at least 25 percent of each agency's contracts go to businesses with fewer than 100 employees.

To accomplish this goal, Schwarzenegger ordered the state Department of General Services to simplify the contract approval process. In response, the agency put contract applications online.

"In most cases, the new online application process can be completed in 20 minutes compared to the former paper-based system that could take months," said State and Consumer Services Agency Secretary Rosario Marin.

On April 1, Schwarzenegger announced that in the 2007 calendar year, small businesses snagged roughly $2.7 billion in state contracts, or 28 percent of the state's $9 billion in contracts. Small business owners themselves welcome the online approach.

"Applying for contracts has definitely gotten easier, now that they have a Web site where you can register as a small business and you can apply for contracts online," said Renee Fraser, owner of Fraser Communications, a West Los Angeles-based public relations and marketing company.

But it's still quite daunting to actually get a state contract. Fraser herself has tried and failed several times to win state marketing contracts.

"It's still a laborious process and you have to invest a lot of face time in Sacramento to make it pay off," Fraser said. "And even then, often the requests for proposals are worded in such a way that the odds are really stacked against a small business from Southern California."

For example, she said several requests for proposals had language specifying that the company have an office within 50 miles of the agency headquarters. And once you get a contract, doing business with the state is no cakewalk.

Cliff Waldeck, owner of Waldeck's Office Supplies for a Small Planet in San Francisco, said he has not gotten paid even a year after supplying goods to some state agencies.

"We really have had to hunt them down to get them to pay up. It's not a matter of intent to stiff the contractor; rather, the bills just seem to fall through the cracks. And if you're in a low-margin business, that can be a very dangerous situation," Waldeck said.

Food Truck Crackdown

The county is cracking down on food truck vendors who spend too much time in a given area.

L.A. County Supervisor Gloria Molina has proposed changing the county's business license ordinance to place a 30-minute limit less than the length of a lunch hour on the amount of time a food truck can spend in one place in residential or commercial areas.

The trucks often are the subject of complaints by residences and by restaurants that claim they poach business. But Molina spokeswoman Roxana Marquez claimed the change would help truck operators follow the law, since the city of Los Angeles has a 30-minute limit already in place

"These food truck vendors don't know exactly where the boundaries are between the city and the county, so this should remove any confusion," she said.

Molina's motion comes back for a second reading this week (April 8). Molina is also supporting legislation by state Assemblyman Ron Calderon to give local jurisdictions more regulatory and enforcement authority over street and food truck vendors.

AB 32 Freight Workshop

The state Air Resources Board has scheduled its first public workshop next week for the shipping and freight industry under AB 32, the state's landmark greenhouse gas reduction law.

The April 15 workshop at the California Environmental Protection Agency building in Sacramento will look at additional measures to control greenhouse gas emissions from ships, harbor craft, cargo handling equipment, trucks and locomotives.

Under AB 32, the state has committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions from all sources to 1990 levels by 2020.

Last fall, the Air Resources Board approved several "early action" measures targeting the goods movement sector, including establishing schedules for emission limits for ships, port drayage trucks, cargo handling equipment and transport refrigeration units.

According to the workshop notice, proposals discussed at this workshop may be developed into regulations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. For more information, log onto the Air Resources Board's Web site at www.arb.ca.gov/cc/cc.htm.

Staff reporter Howard Fine can be reached at hfine@labusinessjournal.com or at (323) 549-5225, ext. 227.

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