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Huffman talks contracts for DBEs

On Thursday, the Selma-Dallas County Chamber of Commerce hosted a “Lunch and Learn” session with John Huffman, Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) Supervisor for the Construction Bureau of the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT), who was on hand to discuss the process and benefits of becoming a DBE.

DBEs are small businesses owned and controlled by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals, such as women and minorities, and the ALDOT program, the state’s arm of the program administered nationally by the U.S. Department of Transportation, gives these businesses the opportunity to compete for federally-funded construction projects.

Huffman noted that the process for becoming a DBE is strenuous, as the possibility of raking in lucrative jobs brings out bad players.

“With money comes people who do unscrupulous things with the program,” Huffman said. “Fraud is a problem in itself.”

By national mandate, 10 percent of transportation projects must be awarded to DBEs for highway and transit projects – for his part, Huffman is concerned with businesses focused on constructions, as there are other departments overseeing businesses with different specialties.

Huffman said the program ensures non-discrimination of ALDOT contracts and creates a level playing field for businesses to compete fairly for contracts.

“It is an economically-driven program,” Huffman said. “We’re trying to help folks increase their wealth.”

Along with the requirement that these businesses be owned and operated by disadvantaged demographics, owners must have a personal net worth of $1.32 million or less and gross receipts for the last three years of business cannot exceed $23.98 million.

Beyond that, there is a lengthy application process that must be undertaken, which includes a site inspection, tax documents and more.

“This is serious business,” Huffman said. “It’s very lucrative, but do your homework and know what you’re getting into.”

Aside from the obvious perks associated with being able to compete for multi-million dollar contracts, DBEs are also listed in a regional directory, have increased opportunities of winning federally-funded contracts, gain access to contractors needing to meet DBE participation requirements and access to technical and managerial support.

“Know the game that you are in and how the rules are played,” Huffman said. “It’s amazing what goes on in a federal highway job.”

For more information on the program, visit www.dot.state.al.us.