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A local organization over the past year has helped minority and women-owned small businesses secure more than $1.5 million in contracts through the Erie County Division of Purchase.

The Buffalo Opportunity Program is a division of the Office of Urban Initiatives, which is a not-for-profit, city-sponsored community development corporation. It was formed in 1994 to increase minority representation in the business community.

The program now focuses its efforts on helping over 150 minority- and women-owned small businesses become aware of county procedures so they will be equally considered for contracts.

The Erie County Division of Purchase's vendor-notification program distributes potential contracts to program members and awards the contract to the lowest bidder.

Many small businesses, however, are so busy trying to stay afloat, that they are often unaware of the rules they must follow in order to join or remain in the vendor-notification program, explained Brian L. Anderson, coordinator of the Business Opportunity Program.

His organization acts as a liaison between the Department of Purchase and the minority and women owners, so the entrepreneurs understand what they must do to be considered as suppliers.

"More than half of the businesses we deal with were not in the system correctly," said Anderson.

The Business Opportunity Program and the Division of Purchase have established a working relationship to "increase minority- and women-owned business' competitiveness in the whole process" of receiving county bids, he added.

Through their collaborative efforts with the county, the Business Opportunity Program has helped small businesses gain contracts totaling more than $1.5 million.

From July 1997 to June 1998, the program has accomplished the following:

African-American businesses were awarded 50 contracts totaling more than $370,000.

Asian-American businesses were awarded 50 contracts totaling more than $200,000.

Hispanic-owned businesses were awarded 35 contracts totaling more than $75,000.

Native American-owned businesses were awarded 6 contracts totaling more than $5,500.

Women-owned businesses were awarded 1,107 contracts totaling more than $1 million.

The Business Opportunity Program represents many different businesses, including printing agencies, wholesalers and janitorial services.

The program hopes to expand its contract base beyond the county to schools, churches and other private markets.

"We really want to try to form another niche," Anderson said.

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