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Why I Started The Montgomery County Small Business Association Part 2

The rest of the story: At the end of my first blog, I said “I decided to do something, something I had never done before…. Go talk to some politicians.” And so I did!

One thing I learned from this experience is: There are (2) types of politicians; those who are elected to office and those who are not. More on that later.

I went to see every member of the Montgomery County Council who was in office at the time. I told my horrific story to each and received a generally sympathetic reaction from each. As you can image, some were more interested than others. One interesting observation: as I think back on my experience now, those who showed the most interest and support, still hold elected office in Montgomery County…Poetic Justice? Perhaps….

One suggestion made (perhaps by more than one council member) was to enlist the help of a “Chamber of Commerce.” I tried with little interest from any Chamber of Commerce in advocating the cause of Montgomery County Small Businesses. I pitched every idea I had at that time: preference points for local Small Businesses competing for County Contracts, more local small Businesses set aside contracts, etc. What I quickly learned was that the Chambers of Commerce were more concerned with upsetting non-Montgomery County Small Businesses than they were with helping Montgomery County Small Business. This is when I realized that there were “politicians” not elected to office.

So I went back to the elected politicians with an idea, start an organization with its sole purpose “Advance the interests of Montgomery County Small Businesses.” The reception was overwhelmingly supportive. In particular, Marc Elrich, Tom Hucker, and Craig Rice each were genuinely concerned with the cause and encouraged me. (Note, since then, several new Council Members have expressed their support and encouragement).

In addition, two county employees have been extremely supportive; Ms. Grace Denno and Ms. Judy Stephenson.

Fast forward, here we are Montgomery County Small Business Association! Our association is getting ready to celebrate the One Year milestone Anniversary. I am proud of our association; we have eight dedicated board members, fifty plus active members plus a variety of member success stories to share who have met through the association to teamed up in their businesses. Our association will continue to host general sessions and networking events over the next year for small business owner with a focus on Together We Grow!

Why I Started The Montgomery County Small Business Association

My name is Ken O’Connell and the name of my business is O’Connell & Lawrence, Inc. I am the co-founder of O’Connell & Lawrence, Inc. May, 2019 will mark our 25th year in business. We are a Montgomery County, small business. I am extremely proud of our engineering/consulting company. I am equally proud of founding the Montgomery County Small Business Association. I am a lifelong Montgomery County resident. . . I love Montgomery County. I love living here, I love working here. . . this is my story, so here it goes.

OCL was formed as, has always been and will always be a local Small Business. We are certified as such in the State of Maryland, Commonwealth of Virginia and every other regional jurisdiction but most importantly we are a certified small business in Montgomery County. We have been a local Montgomery County Small Business since the program began in April 2015. I fancy OCL as “David” in a world of “Goliaths”. . . we have competed against the big regional and national engineering firms since our inception . . . a daunting task for a little firm located in Olney, Maryland.

The Montgomery County Department of Transportation advertised for a project in March 2008. This was not a Local Small Business Procurement. A large, complicated project, which this little firm from Olney decided to pursue . . . why not? After all, this was my “home County” and OCL had established itself and done some really good work for our home County on other assignments.

So it began . . . we worked on that proposal day and night . . . we assembled a team of firms and individuals with all of the requisite experience and expertise required . . . a team led by a local Montgomery County Small Business. A business that, by the way, paid real estate taxes to Montgomery County, had all of its employees living in Montgomery County, bought all of its cars, gas and office supplies in Montgomery County (you get the point).

Well we submitted a proposal, 3 inches thick at a cost of about 40,000 dollars – an awful lot of money for our little firm but we were confident. Unfortunately, we were not selected – something I had become all to accustom to when competing against the big regional and national firms in proposals to the State of Maryland but this somehow felt different, this was, after all, my home County. So we asked for a debriefing.

When that fateful day arrived, we (myself and Executive Vice President – Joe Johnson) sat in a conference room with the head of the evaluation team from Montgomery County Department of Transportation. He proceeded to tell us, for about 30 minutes, how excellent our team, our proposal, our experience and expertise was . . . And then came the punch line, and I mean the “punch” line, not figuratively like in a joke, but like a real punch, in the gut! He said that we actually had “tied with the other firm” and the decision was made by a coin toss to award the contract to the other firm (to this day, I don’t know if he meant that literally or figuratively, it didn’t matter. . . I couldn’t speak) it gets worse . . . the contract was awarded to a firm that was not only not from Montgomery County, but not even from the state of Maryland.

To this day, I remember leaving the building and sitting in my car for what seemed like hours. A range of emotions swept over me, anger, hurt, frustration, disbelief but mostly I felt betrayed. Betrayed by my County . . . I felt like crying but I guess just like in baseball, there’s no crying in business. . . I decided to do something, something I had never done before . . . go talk to some politicians . . . the rest of the story in my next blog. P.S. In fairness to Montgomery County, some things have changed. We have several people in Montgomery County government who care about and support local small businesses. We have a newly elected County Executive who, I know personally to be true, cares about and supports Montgomery County Local Small Businesses. But we have a long way to go. . .

New Small Business Organization Launches in Montgomery County

New Small Business Organization Launches in Montgomery County
Launch Meeting and Board Meet and Greet to be Held at the Montgomery Country Club
May 23rd, 2018

Olney, MD—The newly-formed Montgomery County Small Business Association (MCSBA) will host a formal announcement and launch meeting on May 23rd, 6pm at the Montgomery Country Club. The event is free and open to the public by RSVP only.

The Association, founded by a team of established LSBRP-certified small business owners, will open the meeting with an introduction of the interim board; overview of The Association name and logo; and its mission/vision statement. In addition, the 2018 County Executive candidates will address the audience. Following the meeting will be a meet and greet session with both County Executive and County Councilmember candidates in attendance.

“As a collective of small businesses supporting and driving our County’s economy, we found it essential to give audience to our council candidates to better understand their past support and future plans for new and upcoming Montgomery County small businesses,” said Ken O’Connell, MCSBA Interim President.

The event will begin at 6pm with registration, refreshments and networking. All press inquiries and interview requests for MCSBA’s Interim Board only, contact Kimberly Hodges at khrcreative123@gmail.com. All those interested in attending please RSVP at smallbusiness@montcosba.com .

The Montgomery County Small Business Association, a unified voice for Montgomery County Small Businesses, enhances, supports, promotes and sustains local small business. The Association acts as a collective voice, advocating, educating, and partnering to increase and develop business opportunities in order to strengthen Montgomery County’s economy and community as a whole.