Bill Helps Minority & Women-Owned Businesses

Lynchburg, VA - Virginia spent more than $2 Billion dollars on women and minority-owned businesses in fiscal year 2012 through things like government contracts.

Now, one Virginia legislator wants to keep that momentum going, introducing a new bill in the General Assembly just this week.

Richmond Delegate Delores McQuinn's bill would beef up an existing program. It's called "SWAM," (Small, Women-Owned and Minority-Owned Businesses).

For one Lynchburg SWAM member, the current program has room for improvement.

Charles Brown's a busy man with his construction business. Brown's been a card-carrying member of SWAM more than a decade.

"I've been a part of the SWAM program probably 15 years," said Brown.

SWAM is a certification from the state. It's like a drivers license for small business owners who are either a minority like Brown or a woman. SWAM puts you on a special list. When state and local governments have work done, your business is front and center.

"It's a good opportunity for anyone who wants to get into small business. I think there's a good opportunity there," said Brown.

SWAM isn't perfect, though.

One bill looks to strengthen the program with a small tweak to the law. If minority and women-owned businesses aren't getting state contracts compared to other businesses, new language says the Governor "shall" come up with policy to correct that, instead of the Governor is "authorized and encouraged."

"I see the light bulbs go off a lot of times," said Michael Russell, business development specialist in Lynchburg, VA Dept. of Minority Business Enterprise.

Michael Russell runs SWAM in Lynchburg. He hopes more small businesses sign up in order to sell their goods.

"The small businesses have less overhead, can give better pricing in that regard, and quick turnaround because they're local," said Russell.

Brown has his own idea to fix SWAM: to make the bidding pools smaller, instead of statewide.

"If it can be simplified more, it would be better for people to get in to it," said Brown.

If you want to track the bill, it's called House Bill 2212. So far it's only been introduced. It's awaiting a vote in the General Laws Committee.