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Capital Chatter: State agencies want your bids

Oregon's relatively strong economy means more opportunities for small businesses.

The Governor's Marketplace Conference played to standing-room-only audiences this week in Salem. The conference — on how to do business with the state and other governments — was expected to draw nearly 1,300 attendees.

Among the tips that speakers offered for bidding on government requests for proposals:

• Show you understand what the customer – the agency – needs.

• Show you can get the work done on time.

• Demonstrate that you know what you're doing. The agency wants to know how your approach sets you apart from the competition.

• Don't make assumptions. Ask questions, ask questions, ask questions. But communicate only with the agency's designated contact for the bid process. Don't try to pry information from other agency staff members.

• Follow the submission rules and pay attention to the details. If the proposal template calls for 12-point Times New Roman, use that font. Don't try to be cute.

• You have a chance: Oregon's relatively strong economy means more opportunities for small businesses. Several speakers stressed that if people think state agencies always do business with the same companies, it's because too few other companies are bidding.

For example, both the Oregon Health Authority and Department of Human Services are seeking more vendors. Oregon companies make up only 35 percent of the vendors serving the state Department of Corrections, which would like to work with more Oregon companies.

• Not learning from the past: One speaker said the federal government keeps track of whether a company did a bad job in previous work for it, whereas most state agencies don't.

That stunned me. Poor performance should be a disqualifier — or at least a significant barrier.

• No local shoe store: When major wildfires hit Oregon, practically everyone from the state Department of Forestry gets deployed. Shannon Rand, Forestry's procurement director, told of working at a fire camp in Baker County and wanting a break from her fire boots. She tried to order shoes from Amazon but found Amazon doesn't provide two-day delivery to tiny Unity.

Her anecdote was humorous, but it also had a point: Fire camps are opportunities for local folks to supply services and goods.

As for Unity, Rand said she enjoyed the friendliness and hospitality of its 70-some residents.

• Shopping on the cheap: The federal government sometimes has unrealistically low ideas of how much it wants to pay for work. Carol McIntyre of the Army Corps of Engineers likened it to walking into Nordstrom with a J.C. Penney credit card.

Side note: Oregon's capital is losing Nordstrom. After 38 years in downtown, the Salem Nordstrom store will close next month.

• March Madness for Brown, Merkley: CNN put together a March Madness-style bracket for the 2020 Democratic presidential primary.

Thirty-two potential candidates, including Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and Sen. Jeff Merkley, were divided into four "regions." CNN said each of the 32 "has some combination of pedigree, money, grass-roots support or, at the least, publicly stated interest in a presidential bid. But like with March Madness itself, chance is often the final arbiter of the aspirants' collective fate."

Brown was seeded seventh in The Governors region. Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe was first; Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, second; Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, third; and California Gov. Jerry Brown, eighth.

The CNN analysis by Gregory Krieg and Tal Yellin said Oregon's Brown "is a good bet to be re-elected this fall and has a place in history as the first governor to sign an automatic 'motor voter' bill into law."

The Senators region had Merkley seeded sixth. The top seeds were Sens. Kamala Harris, California, first; Kirsten Gillibrand, New York; second; and Cory Booker, New Jersey, third.

According to the CNN analysis, "Sens. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota (4), Chris Murphy of Connecticut (5) and Jeff Merkley of Oregon (6) are all liberals in good standing with Democratic voters and viable options if they can break through in such a crowded field."

Ah, but some big-name senators were in a different region — The Lefties. Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts were seeded one and two.

Meanwhile, the Wild Cards region had former Vice President Joe Biden for its No. 1 seed — and likely No. 1 nationally.

• Hitting the road: The Joint Legislative Committee on Student Success was kicking off its 10-stop statewide tour with school-district meetings and a public hearing on March 22 at Sheldon High School in Eugene. Other hearings are in Baker City, April 24; Hermiston, April 25; Clackamas, May 9; Woodburn, May 24; Medford, June 5; Beaverton, July 11; Redmond, Sept. 13; Portland, Sept. 27; and Coos Bay, Oct. 10.

Salem-Keizer, the state's second-largest school district, is not included.

Legislators likely will argue that the committee holds hearings in Salem at the Oregon Capitol. True. But not at a local school — a more natural environment for the public — as the committee is doing elsewhere.

• Huh?: I recently came across this sentence. It's from an Oregon Department of Environmental Quality factsheet with updates and clarifications on the Clean Fuels Program:

"The lookup table carbon intensity values for biofuels (ethanol, biodiesel, renewable diesel and renewable natural gas) were removed from Tables 3 and 4 in the November 2017 rulemaking and were functionally replaced by the temporary fuel pathway codes in the newly created Table 9."

I'm sure it made sense to the people who follow such things. At least I hope so.

Dick Hughes, who writes the weekly Capital Chatter column, has been covering the Oregon political scene since 1976. Contact him at TheHughesisms@Gmail.com, Hughesisms.com/Facebook, YouTube.com/c/DickHughes or @DickHughes on Twitter.