Doing Business With Mercer County

Though many people think it is difficult to do business with Mercer County, the truth, according to county purchasing agent Marcella Longo, is that the county wants to work with local businesses. In fact, Longo’s office awarded approximately $20 million in contracts in 2007.

This figure does not include state contracts and open-ended contracts. The county’s needs range from basics like office supplies to umpire and referee services for softball and soccer leagues.

Longo says that if you want to do contract work with the county, you must be a registered business. Then, follow these steps:

Get on the vendor list. Registering as a business with the state is just the first step, but you must also register with the county. This will ensure that you receive notification of all bids in your area of expertise. You can download the forms to register your business online at the county’s website, nj.gov/counties/mercer/business.

The bid process. To do business with the county it is vital to keep on top of the current bid list. Approximately 85 percent of all bids are posted at www.mercercounty.org, and Longo is also required to advertise all bids in the public notice section of the Trenton Times. If you are interested in a specific bid you can request complete information on it, which will be mailed or E-mailed to you.

All bids and proposals are opened publicly in the Mercer County McDade Administration Building, in Trenton. Bidders must attend when their bids is opened, because while most of the forms in the bid proposal are not complex, even minor mistakes can mean that a bid is not accepted.

Winning the bid. The forms do not stop when the bid is won. Once you have the contract you must file an affirmative action statement. If your employees will have access to a county site you must also file a statement that you are in compliance with all immigration and naturalization laws and that background checks have been performed.

This isn’t necessary if you are a vendor who is only supplying products. Depending on the job or service, proper forms may also be required at various intervals throughout the life of the contract. If the forms are not filled out, the contractor will not be paid.

The county purchasing department can be reached at 609-989-6710. — Karen Hodges Miller

Excerpted from the March 19, 2008, issue of U.S. 1.

Strategic Partnering

Often a single business can’t do it all and has to look to others for help.

Elizabeth Treher, president and cofounder of the Learning Key in Washington’s Crossing, has developed a process for creating and managing strategic relationships. When a company hires another to produce a single component on a one-time basis, for example, the relationship is merely transactional.

Before initiating any new relationship Treher urges companies to ask themselves the hard questions: What is our purpose in seeking help from the outside? What would be the appropriate type of relationship

A company also needs to look carefully at the skills and willingness of its own staff and how developing a new strategic relationship will affect it. The company itself might have to make changes.

Once companies truly understand the risks of developing strategic partnerships and are ready to commit to one, Treher suggests the following:

Decide, revie, select. Once you decide on a project, name the internal team that will manage selection, contracting, and implementation and determine the scope of work. Ask: What are the best practices? Who are the people and companies known for doing this kind of work well? What are your success factors? How will you know things are going well or are off track? What are the performance metrics?

“Once you know these things, you can identify who might be potential partner organizations,” says Treher.

RFPs. Once you have a short list, you need to develop request for proposal and nondisclosure agreements.

Look first at a potential partner’s key executives. Do you think you will have sufficient rapport with them to work together? Is there enough good will to face problems together and resolve them? Where are your compatibilities, philosophically and culturally, and are your goals and values aligned?

Next arrange for site visits and quality audits; find out about the company’s experience with projects of similar complexity; look at their technical competence, staffing strategies, communication and problem solving, safety, regulation, and quality assurance. Look at facilities. Explore potential intellectual property issues and who would own anything to be developed.

Conduct contract negotiations. Treher believes the boilerplate contracts legal departments often cough up are generally not the best approach. “They will give legal protection, but there must be some equal sharing in the partnership in structuring the agreement or contract,” she says. “People support what they help create.”

The contract must also define clearly the roles and responsibilities within the leadership of the two organizations. What is often left out, at great risk to the success of the partnership, is documenting expectations around communication and the specific strategies or processes to be used.

Plan the project launch. The launch is often an afterthought after so much effort has been expended on other issues. Treher says, “In the technology world, we are so interested in jumping in and doing, we don’t plan too well how we’re going to begin.” But insufficient attention to managing the launch, she continues, is the most cited cause for alliance failure.

Treher suggests that before any kickoff meeting two things must happen: Everyone who will be present should review the contract ahead of time and look at the parts related to their own involvement and commitments; and everyone should complete a questionnaire about their perceptions of expectations, goals, and missions.

Focus on streamlining. Though streamlining is usually the nuts and bolts of the relationship, people tend to focus on the tangibles of delivery, data, and output, Treher says. In addition to focusing on measurable outcomes and milestones, you want to also focus on the communication plan: is the communication appropriate? Are you meeting frequently enough? Is the process working or does it need to be improved?

Share lessons. “Many companies have a relatively good lessons-learned process — what worked, what didn’t, and how might we do it differently,” says Treher. “You need a way to leverage the learning from a particular piece that was outsourced so you don’t make the same mistakes again and to enhance other teams and projects in the future.”

For more information, visit www.thelearningkey.com or call 800-465-7005.

— Michele Alperin

Excerpted from the April 2, 2008, issue of U.S. 1.

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