(Photograph by Annette Semerdjian)

Sashi Muralidharan, small business enterprise administrator for the Port of Long Beach, ensures that small, very small and disadvantaged businesses have access to and are considered for port contracts. The port’s Small Business Enterprise/Very Small Business Enterprise Program was formed in 2004 at the direction of the Long Beach Board of Harbor Commissioners to improve small businesses’ odds in winning construction, consulting and procurement contracts with the port. Muralidharan has overseen the program almost since its inception, joining the port staff in 2005. Since the program got rolling, small and very small businesses have received more than $400 million in payments as port contractors. “We want to see 27% of our contracting dollars go to small businesses,” Muralidharan said. These contracts are spread among the port’s divisions, which oversee their own purchasing. “I have 20 different divisions with staff coming and going. My challenge is constantly marketing, training, keeping folks aware [of the program],” he explained. To make the business community aware of contracting opportunities, Muralidharan often speaks on panels or at conferences, including the annual California Construction Expo. “The positive feedback I hear from our audience is, ‘I didn’t know about these opportunities. I didn’t know how to navigate and now I do,’” he said. Businesses respond to the port’s requests for proposals through PlanetBids, an online platform run by a small business. The platform’s ease of use has helped the port grow its applicant pool. “We have definitely expanded the vendors that bid on our projects, so you get better competition, better pricing. It helps the economy,” he said.