U.S. Small Business Administration
Houston Small Business Development Corporation
Business Information Center
Internal revenue Service
Environmental Protection Agency
General Services Administration
SCORE - Retired Executives
City of Houston One Stop Business Center
Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission
Department of Labor - Wage and Hour Division
Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
Occupational Safety and Health Administration
Housing and Urban Development
Immigration and Naturalization Service
State of Texas Comptrollers office
U. S. Postal Service
U. S. Customs Service
Harris County DBA
Veterans Administration Medical Center
Harris County Housing and Community Development Agency
Harris County Appraisal District
Academy Sports and Outdoors
Office of Congressman Gene Green
Office of Congressman Ken Bentsen
Office of Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee
Business start-up procedures
Loan information and applications
SBA loan guarantees
Sample Business Plans
Extensive tax information
Contracting and procurement opportunities
Permits and licenses
City of Houston services for small businesses
Marketing and sales counseling
Vice President Gore's "Small Business Advisor" - a comprehensive data base on federal regulations and programs affecting small business
On-site seminars and training conferences
Resource library with state of the art and online computer services provided by
the Houston Small Business Development Corporation
Video facilities and free internet access
In October of 1996, the Small Business Administration plans to open a One-Stop Capital Shop. This will operate in conjunction with the FEB's U. S. General Store and both operations will work closely together and integrate their services as appropriate.
The store is fully equipped with work stations, furniture, computers, fax, Xerox, and traditional office equipment, including a resource library. This store operates without any budget whatsoever. All services and equipment have been donated by public and private partners. The Store's landlord and partner is the Houston Small Business Development Corporation. The rent for the first and second year of operation has been fixed at one dollar. This includes office, training, and conference space. The Federal Executive Board is exploring measures to raise money for the operation of the Store.
The U. S. General Store has established a Marketing and Outreach Committee, which is developing short and long term objectives and a strategic plan for increasing partners and customers. Five committees have been established to implement programs at the Store -- Contracting and Procurement; Small Business Assistance; Taxes; Education and Training; Marketing and Outreach. All committees have a mandate to seek customer input in developing their strategic plans. Committees are chaired by various FEB members, with volunteer participation by many agencies across the board.
There was an attempt in the beginning to execute Memoranda of Understanding with participating agencies. Fortunately, this was not implemented because creating a project like this demands total flexibility in objectives, job descriptions, roles, financial participation, staffing, training, etc. The substitute for such Memos of Understanding are the subcommittees established, as described previously, with committed agency personnel who are developing strategic plans, benchmarks and measurements, both short and long term.
For example, had the Store been limited to our original objectives, it never would have realized the major impact the Store has made in securing government contracts for small business people. This has been the most popular and successful aspect of the Store's operation. It came as a surprise to the FEB that such an extensive data base was available of goods and services being sought by the government. Committed and dedicated staff from GSA made this happen. SCORE is also a very key player in this whole mix, and many of the successes have come as a result of the retired executives advice to small businesses. A computer data base is now in place and measurements on service to customers will become an integral part of the operation. Absent a data base, five interns from the University of Houston identified success stories through telephone surveys.
It is helpful to have continuing oversight so that the FEB is informed on the day to day successes and problems. An SBA official is now present in the Store on a Daily basis, developing plans to open the One-Stop Capital Shop, which will work closely with the Store. His presence has been effective.
Four days a week a liaison from EPA, HUD, or EEOC are present in the store, and this will be a critical aspect toward broadening the customer base. If there is a manager in the Store, the manager needs to be a team-leader and extremely participative, understanding that this can only work in a team environment. Store personnel have to be independent, highly motivated, and show creativity and initiative in developing their jobs. Houston is lucky to have such a staff. Some government managers are uncomfortable not having one person "in-charge." Rather, we are rotating permanent staff in the store to act as a host agency for operations to see that the doors are open and locked, that alarms are set, and to oversee other logistical duties.
It was extremely helpful to have the support of Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, to help with access to the Vice President and the Mayor of the City of Houston. The store is physically located in her Congressional District, and she has been a good ambassador for the work of the Store, helping to pull in customers and partners. Congressman Ken Bentsen and Congressman Gene Green have also been staunch supporters.
The Houston Federal Executive Board has a history of close collaboration between federal agencies and a history of partnerships with non-governmental entities. This provided the atmosphere to successfully implement such a broad collaborative effort. The Store also fit in precisely with the FEB's main strategic objective: customer service. A key factor in the success of the Store, particularly in the envisioning and implementation stage, has been a strong Executive Director of the Board, who saw the possibilities and brought them to the Board's attention and this has been the glue to hold it all together. Rob Fischer has developed an extensive communication system by fax, which instantaneously notifies hundreds of partners and federal staff of important events and needs. Good communication is an absolutely critical component of a successful operation. Bulletins were sent out requesting equipment, furniture, financing, staff, volunteers, etc., on Special Alert fax notices, eliciting a fantastic response. Financing continues to be a serious concern for the FEB, and continued NPR encouragement of Cabinet level officials and other high level government managers has been a significant factor of success.
The Chair of the Management Committee, Harriet Ehrlich, EEOC's District Director, is continuing to explore ways to encourage sustained and significant participation in the Store by federal employees. It is critical to keep middle managers of federal agencies informed and appreciated for their support.
The underpinning for getting a project like this off the ground comes straight from Michael Hammer's philosophy -- "Just do it and stumble forward!" You have to establish the right culture and have strong leadership to implement such a program. As Michael Hammer reminds us, "Establishing a culture is a leader's job as is creating a climate of innovation and change." That's hard to do in a federal bureaucracy, but it's possible. People involved in creating this Store need to have the courage to try things. Again, Michael Hammer says, "Winners make more mistakes than losers because they try things." People involved in the Store have to be willing to try things on their own, without asking for permission, or try to find rules and regulations to allow them to do this. "It's easier to ask forgiveness than to ask permission." (Hammer)
The incentive for people involved in creating a Store like this is in being able to make a difference. "It makes government work better and costs less," as Vice President Al Gore reminds us, and it puts the customer first. NPR says that only 17% of the American people trust government to do the right thing. The Houston U. S. General Store is changing that perception.
U. S. General Store for Small Business
5400 Griggs Road
Houston, Texas 77021 - 3115
PHONE : (713) - 643 - 8000
FAX: (713) - 643 - 8193