Important Issues, Legal, Public Policy|

If famous 19th Century novelist Charles Dickens was alive seeking a first line to best introduce the story about a small-firm victory, it may look something like this:

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.

And in these times, businesses do what they can to survive tenuous economies. Small firms know a thing or two about this. Competition becomes stiffer; inquires and RFP responses more abundant.

Several years ago, in response to the national financial tightening, small firm based in La Canada, LCDG, moved largely in the public work arena. Because of this, much of their business, like many small firms, comes from contracts that are on-call, as-needed. So one can imagine the confusion that would occur when reading a Request for Proposal (RFP) and coming across very incorrect information.

On the L.A. County RFP Business-Size Category, the eligibility criteria read:

Must be independently owned and operated; together with its affiliates, is a business with 100 or fewer employees.

Lance Bird, FAIA, Principal at LCDG, was concerned for obvious reasons. How is a small firm to compete when a governmental form is defining “small” as 100 employees? In 2012, the county reviewed the submittals, and solicited again this July because they determined from their criteria that only one small firm submitted. Their original intent was to award six of the ten contracts to small firms, but could not fulfill said intent with the current statistics listed. So now, this form has posed problems for both sides—the size of a small firm and the response from small firms. Neither County nor firm is winning thus far.

“Clearly, a firm approaching 100 employees is not small,” Bird stated in an email. He contacted AIACC to inquire as to whether there was any written documentation conceding to the exact number of how many employees constitutes a small firm. There happens to exist such evidence in National AIA’s 2012 publication “The Business of Architecture.” According to this document, “Almost a quarter of architecture firms nationally are sole practitioners and more than 60 percent have fewer than five employees on their payrolls. In contrast, only 1.4 percent of offices have 100 or more employees.”

“I forwarded the stats to the County with a request to reconsider their size criteria. This made the case, successfully persuading the County bureaucracy to change their form and reissue it. The revised form defines “Small” as 25 employees or less,” said Bird.

Not only was this particular RFP changed, but the A/E As-Need services RFP will also use the 25-person small-firm definition for their requests as well. This is a huge success for small firms, and for AIA.

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times—but at least now small firms vying for contracts in Los Angeles County have better odds. And Los Angeles County has a better chance of reviewing more options.

Shannon Calder
Shannon Calder
Shannon Calder, a Sacramento-based writer, joined the AIA California in 2013. She spends her days both on and off hours, looking for connection, which is a good hobby to have when linking the value of design to public perception.

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