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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, January 26, 2006

Getting contacts for contracts

By Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writer

Small-business owners such as Talitha Chavis-Clore got a chance to promote her company to large contractors like Earth Tech Inc., represented by Ryan Truong. Yesterday's Contracting, Matchmaking & Loan Fair was sponsored by the U.S. Small Business Association.

DEBORAH BOOKER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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What: The Chamber of Commerce of Hawai'i will set up "matchmaking opportunities" at the Small Business "Experience The Power" expo.

When: April 12

Where: Neal Blaisdell Exhibition Hall.

Information: Call Lydia Tsugawa at the chamber, 545-4300, ext. 313.

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KAPOLEI A cramped meeting room inside Kapolei Hale exploded in 15-minute bursts of conversation yesterday as primary contractors and small-business owners met for the first time in brief, but intense, discussions that could lead to future business partnerships.

The organizers from the federal Small Business Administration called the back-to-back 15-minute meetings "speed dating for businesses."

"We really want to put the smaller firms with the big contractors and let them meet face-to-face," said SBA spokeswoman Jane Sawyer. "It's so competitive that you want to do everything you can to get consideration."

The SBA's Hawai'i office has organized a handful of similar events over the past year, but yesterday's gathering of 120 small businesses and 15 federal, state and private contractors was the largest so far. Both the SBA and Chamber of Commerce of Hawai'i are planning similar events in April.

Neither the contractors nor the small businesses who came to yesterday's speed dating sessions expected to sign any business agreements on the spot.

But small businesses got to learn about upcoming projects and what they need to do to be considered for sub-contracting work. Primary contractors were able to expand their databases with new potential sub-contractors especially women- and minority-owned businesses that will help them comply with government regulations for jobs.

Melanie Martin, disadvantaged business enterprise program manager for the state Department of Transportation, said her role yesterday was to let small businesses know about potential jobs and the requirements to win the contracts.

But Martin believes the pressure is on small-business owners to do their own research and get themselves noticed.

"There are a lot of up and coming businesses here," Martin said. "But when it comes to government, the onus is on the business to their self-marketing."

With Hawai'i continuing to enjoy the lowest unemployment rate in the country and construction workers and builders busy in the Islands' hot construction industry, Cedric Ota, general superintendent of Hawaiian Dredging, hoped yesterday to expand his roster of potential sub-contractors.

And Ota had nine small business owners eagerly waiting to get his attention.

"We're always looking for companies to add to our list," Ota said. "So this is definitely something that will help us."

Talitha Chavis-Clore, the 31-year-old owner of Chavis-Clore Cleaning Service, tried to keep her optimism in check yesterday after meeting so many contractors.

"It's just an introduction to let them know that I'm here," she said. "In order to be one of their sub-contractors, you want them to know your name. You want to already be familiar with them and want them to know who you are."

Chavis-Clore's company of 12 full-time and seven part-time employees specializes in cleaning recently vacated military homes and detailing newly built ones.

With the largest military housing project of its kind just beginning on O'ahu, Chavis-Clore hopes that the private developers working on Air Force, Navy and Army homes will need a company just like hers.

"I don't want to be too optimistic," she said. "But every bit of business that comes in is always a boost."

Tom Nishi, secretary/treasurer of sub-contractor Elite Mechanical, Inc., also tried not to get carried away with the possibilities of meeting so many contractors.

"There's a whole bunch of people here," Nishi said, just before sitting down with representatives of Army projects. "But maybe something will come up."

Reach Dan Nakaso at dnakaso@honoluluadvertiser.com.