Is Responsible Bidder Ordinance a Responsible Move?

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Our region has made a great deal of progress working together. The political boundaries that often cause us to compete locally rather than cooperate have started to blur. Leaders have recognized that we are stronger together than we are as individuals.

The Regional Cities program is a great example of the power of collaboration. Most around Indiana doubted our region could come together, but we did and secured a $42 million investment from the State that will help spark more than $700 million of new private capital investment.

Five counties (Berrien and Cass in MI and St. Joseph, Elkhart and Marshall in IN) have come together to market the region in economic development circles. Numerous other collaborative partnerships in areas like education and workforce development, regional legislative priorities, and infrastructure planning have sprouted and are beginning to grow.

Business leaders are excited about these efforts, as they realize their customers and their employees come from a broad geographic footprint. At the same time as this progress, the reality remains that our elected leaders have been elected to represent the interests of their specific district, not the region. Sometimes those individual interests supersede the interest of the greater good.

Take for example the responsible bidder ordinance currently being considered by the St. Joseph County Council. A Council committee will take up the issues later this month.  Interest in such an ordinance was sparked by frustration over a bidder from outside the County but within the region being awarded a contract on a public works project. Momentum for such ordinances is has gained some traction in a handful of communities around Indiana.

At the heart of the ordinance, it seeks to keep public works projects local with contractors from St. Joseph County. We certainly have a number of contractors that could benefit from such a rule, but imagine the flip side should all of our neighbors enact similar rules. We live in a regional and global economy, our businesses depend on the opportunity to do business here and around the region.

The current system gives the County the ability to decide on a bid based upon the lowest, most responsible and responsive bidder. They don’t have go by just low price. If the County determines a bidder not to be responsive or responsible, then they can choose another contractor. No new ordinance is needed to reiterate what the current law requires.

Supporters of the ordinance will cite a number of “what if” scenarios as the reason for the ordinance to move forward now. Absent will be real life examples of where the current system is flawed. Instead, emotional arguments about spending your tax dollars wisely will dominate the conversation.

The truth is that the communities that are leading the country in job growth and new capital investment don’t have these types of ordinances. Leaders in those communities want their local contractors to succeed, but realize they do so by competing on quality and price and not with some unnecessary government mandate.  Those communities recognize ordinances like this often rule a community out early in the site selection process.

The County is currently experiencing record job growth, record new capital investment, and wages are on the rise for the first time in decades. Let’s not derail or delay that progress with this new ordinance that only adds unnecessary steps to a process that currently dues a good job in vetting quality and qualified contractors for public works projects. Ask your County Council person to vote no on the proposed responsible bidder ordinance.

Jeff Rea is chief executive officer of the St. Joseph County Chamber of Commerce.

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