Small businesses find projects through online platform

A free online platform that connects small businesses to jobs at large industrial projects launched statewide Thursday after months of beta testing in Southwest Louisiana.

The website, Louisiana Business Connection, was born out of a need to give small and disadvantaged businesses more opportunities, said Don Pierson, Louisiana economic development secretary.

Since the program began operating in Southwest Louisiana last year, Pierson said, 54 prime contractors and 322 small businesses have created profiles on the site.

The Southwest Louisiana Economic Development Alliance was heavily involved in the planning process, said R.B. Smith, vice president of workforce development at the alliance.

“We have so many major mega-projects here in Southwest Louisiana, and many of our small and disadvantaged businesses were trying to figure out how to do business with these large firms,” Smith said. “So we tried to work out a path forward for how to connect with these large businesses.”

He said that before the website small businesses had to rely on word of mouth to find out about job opportunities at big projects. When companies moved into a new area, he said, they often continued to get supplies and services from the same vendors without venturing into the local market — a more cost-efficient alternative.

Smith said there was “such a great need and such an outcry” for a better system that the alliance and others began meeting to find a solution.

Large businesses can create profiles on the website highlighting their needs, he said, and small businesses can create profiles showcasing their abilities, insurance coverage, safety ratings and certifications.

He said the website will automatically generate a match, taking away the communication barrier and giving small businesses the opportunity to show industries what they’re capable of. It also offers training and resources and provides a checklist to increase the likelihood of matching with major projects.

Smith said examples of small businesses that could benefit from the website are those who provide office supplies, hardware, tubing, electrical wiring, electrical fittings, expendable items, janitorial services and catering services.

“It’s a great tool if we can get everybody on both sides involved,” he said.