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January 24, 2007

Gov. Blagojevich announces new IDOT effort to create more opportunities for small and minority road contractors
Mentor-Protégé Program matches big contractors with small firms; Goal to increase percentage of road contracts that go to Disadvantaged Business Enterprises

New program complements Governor’s ongoing efforts to increase opportunities for small businesses
SPRINGFIELD – Governor Rod R. Blagojevich announced today that the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) launched a groundbreaking new Mentor-Protégé Program designed to help disadvantaged business enterprises (DBE), small and minority owned companies, to succeed and compete for larger road construction projects.
“Our goal is to make sure small and minority contractors have a fair shot at winning contracts.  This new program gives smaller companies that are breaking into the business an opportunity to succeed by working with larger contractors that have succeeded in the business and are willing to share their knowledge,” said Gov. Blagojevich. 
The new program has been approved by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) as a three year pilot project. It will be offered in four of IDOT’s Districts around the state, including D-1 in northeastern Illinois, D-4 based in Peoria, D-6 based in Springfield, and D-8 in Metro East.
“The FHWA applauds IDOT's development of one of the nation's first FHWA-approved Mentor-Protégé programs, and we look forward to working with the State to find additional opportunities for DBE firms," said FHWA Administrator J. Richard Capka. "Efforts like these will go a long way to leveling the playing field for small, socially and economically disadvantaged businesses, including minority- and women-owned enterprises."
The federally approved Mentor-Protégé pilot program compensates mentor companies for the administrative expenses associated with the effort and teams up a larger, experienced firm with contractors that are certified as a Disadvantaged Business Enterprise in Illinois. The deadline for potential mentor and protégé firms to apply for the first round of the program is February 16.
Under the new program, once a mentor firm and a protégé are teamed up, they will jointly establish a Development Plan that outlines their goals and expectations, sets benchmarks and creates a monitoring and reporting mechanism that will be used to judge the effectiveness of the effort.
The plan may include training in the following areas: business planning, recordkeeping, technical assistance and use of equipment, capital formation, loan packaging, financial counseling and bonding.
The mentor and protégé will work together toward the goal of winning contracts for the protégé, and the two contractors will have the option of forming joint ventures to bid on projects.
“IDOT has raised the bar itself by increasing the statewide goal for the percentage of contracts going to DBEs from 12 percent in 2003 to the current goal of 22.7 percent,” said IDOT Secretary Timothy W. Martin. “But building roads is a tough and complicated business, and that’s why we are moving forward with this creative new program targeted at small contracting firms.”
The Blagojevich administration and IDOT, through its Office of Business and Workforce Diversity, have moved aggressively to break down barriers that prevent small and minority contractors from succeeding in the road construction field.
IDOT has upgraded and expanded the supportive services it offers to DBEs to enable them to compete for contracts. Under this administration, IDOT opened walk-in DBE Resource Centers in both Chicago and East St. Louis. Previously, contractors seeking assistance had to travel to Springfield.
In order to give small firms a fair shot at competing for work, IDOT has unbundled a number of larger contracts on the Dan Ryan and Kingery reconstruction projects in Chicago and Cook County into smaller contracts.
IDOT’s efforts to level the playing field for DBEs got a boost in 2005 when a federal judge upheld the constitutionality of the program and found that it was narrowly tailored to remedy past racial and gender discrimination.
To qualify for the new Mentor-Protégé Program, the mentor must have at least five years of experience as an IDOT contractor.  The protégé must have at least three years of highway construction experience and also be certified as a DBE through the Illinois Unified Certification Program.
Progress in the program will be overseen by IDOT’s Mentor-Protégé Oversight Committee.
For more information, interested parties should go to the IDOT website at www.dot.state.il.us/obwd/mentor.html.
IDOT’s initiatives fit in with the broader effort of the Governor’s administration to create opportunities for small and minority businesses.
Last year, the Department of Central Management Services (CMS) launched an initiative to highlight how entrepreneurs across the state can Sell2Illinois – and expand their capacity, enhance their credentials and grow their revenues – by making the State their next customer.  CMS helps State agencies purchase more than $10 billion in products and services every year, and the agency targeted small companies as well as businesses owned by women, minorities and persons with disabilities throughout the state to compete for this business.
The agency set aside significantly more contracts for small businesses, and aggressively raised revenue thresholds so more firms qualify for the Small Business Set Aside (SBSA) program.  As a result, more state money now flows to small Illinois firms.  Last year, the state awarded a record $38.5 million in set-aside contracts to small businesses – nearly triple the amount of the year before. 
Additionally, entrepreneurs that are women, minorities or persons with disabilities can more effectively compete for state contracts. Spending with diverse firms through the Business Enterprise Program (BEP) increased by $30 million – an 8 percent increase – to $384 million in 2005.  Business owners can learn how to compete for this business by visiting www.sell2.illinois.gov.
Gov. Blagojevich has also created, for the first time, a formalized structure for coordinating services to small businesses and entrepreneurs across the state through the Illinois Entrepreneurship Network (IEN). The Governor has opened almost 20 entrepreneurship centers throughout the state that are a vital component of the IEN, which also includes Small Business Development Centers, Procurement Technical Assistance Centers, International Trade Centers and other partners. 
The IEN website, www.ienconnect.com, features a free business needs assessment and a referral within 24 hours for personalized, face-to-face assistance.  Entrepreneurs who call toll-free to the IEN information center (1-800-252-2923) can also connect with service representatives who will assess their business concerns and direct them to the local resources that best meets their needs.


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