Last month, I attended the Orange County Small Business Council for a roundtable discussion on how small businesses are faring with state contracts. The Council is comprised of four prominent chambers of commerce in the region. After I opened the meeting, detailing the progress that the state has made in contracting with small businesses and existing incentives, the room was eerily silent. Slowly, board members began acknowledging that they had no idea that the state was so eager to do business with small businesses. Few were familiar with the Executive Order Governor Schwarzenegger had put out calling for the state to use at least 25 percent of it’s massive purchasing power with small businesses and disabled veterans business enterprises (DVBEs).

I couldn’t believe it; I knew it was time for my agency to take its show on the road.

We all know about the doom and gloom that is being reported on the nation’s current economic state, so it is especially important in these tough times that California’s businesses know the state is focusing on increasing its small business and DVBE contracts. After leaving the roundtable discussion, it became clear that bad hotel coffee and rental cars awaited me. Our state’s small businesses need to hear it from the real McCoy: California is open for business.

Each day 6.8 million Californians – half our state’s workforce – go to work at small businesses across the state. Their work in construction, manufacturing and service industries allow the small business sector to grow and drive our economy.

Governor Schwarzenegger is committed to making sure that those of us in state government continue to do everything we can to help create new small business opportunities, grow existing businesses, and push state agencies to contract more with small businesses.

Small businesses are the very backbone of our state’s economic strength because they are doers. They seize opportunity, build goals and achieve dreams. The state recognizes their immense contributions and this summer, I’m personally expanding our outreach to small businesses, so they can continue to thrive. No town is too small or hard to get to. No drive too long. We will go to them and walk them through our certification process. We want to meet them face to face. Yreka to San Ysidro, the ocean to the desert. If you’re willing to listen, we’re willing to teach you the tools.

As you read this, I’m preparing to hit the road to visit the first annual Small Business Action Day & Fullerton Small Business Expo in Fullerton tomorrow where I’ll talk with business owners about how to do business with the state, how to get themselves certified and answer any questions about the contracting process.

California’s state government spends $9 billion per year through contracts with small businesses. Last year, 28.3 percent of the state’s contract spending was done with small businesses. That translated into $2.3 billion of the state’s money being pumped into the economy, going directly to our small businesses communities. While last year’s numbers exceeded the Governor’s Executive Order, I believe we can do better.

For state government, contracting with small business makes sense. Over 98 percent of all California firms are small businesses. These companies employ over half of our state’s workforce and generates 60 percent of our gross domestic product. Currently over 16,000 small businesses are certified to do business with the state – a substantial increase from the 11,000 businesses in January 2007. These include a large number of women and minority-owned firms. We are looking for many more, especially with the recent passage of billions of dollars in infrastructure bonds.

And let’s not forget about the taxpayers! Everyone benefits when more small businesses become certified. How? When the number of businesses bidding on state projects increases, competitive pricing translates into taxpayers receiving the best bang for their buck.

California is dedicated to the success of its small companies, by helping to reduce the high cost of business, providing employers with a qualified workforce and creating every opportunity for small business to grow and create more jobs. Making it easier to contract with the state is just one more way for small businesses to flourish. Even in these difficult economic times, Governor Schwarzenegger continues to create opportunities for small businesses.

So look for us in your area and come and find out about the best kept secret in town. As for me, I’m off to pack. See you in Fullerton!

For a complete list of events and appearances, please visit the State and Consumer Services Agency Web Site and click on the Summer of Small Business Tour backstage pass.