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Small Business Month with Elcon Associates, Inc.

May 11, 2023

May is National Small Business Month! In the words of the Port’s Executive Director, Stephen Metruck: “Small businesses are the lifeblood of the economy, and key to the success of the Port – from our dining and retail tenants to the commercial fishing boats at our marinas to small construction vendors who work on our capital projects.”

In honor of Small Business Month, the Diversity in Contracting team caught up with Elcon Associates, a small business with disadvantaged business enterprise (DBE) and minority business enterprise (MBE) certification, specializing in electrical engineering and lighting design. Elcon has had a long history of supporting primes on a number of Port projects so they know what they are talking about when it comes to government work, succeeding as a small business, and the relationship between the two. Enjoy!

The Elcon Experience

Please tell us about the work that you do. 

Elcon Associates, Inc. (Elcon) is a full-service electrical engineering and lighting design firm with over 45 years of experience successfully providing electrical, lighting, controls, and telecom design and support on waterfront, airport, municipal, commercial, and transportation projects. Elcon's team of experienced engineers and designers specializes in the designing of power distribution, lighting, communications, and control systems for projects ranging in size and complexity from conception to completion. Elcon has been providing electrical engineering services to the Port of Seattle since the early 1980s. 

What are things you wished you would have known before you began government work? 

Having primarily worked with government agencies throughout our over 45 years in business, Elcon Associates, Inc. (Elcon) has learned that not only are the agencies your client, but the public is too. We have also learned that working with government agencies can be unpredictable – such as when a pandemic unexpectedly halts the world – so we must be ready to adjust our business accordingly. 

WMBE Experience

Have you had the opportunity to support another WMBE firms’ growth? 

Elcon is proud of our company’s minority heritage and is intentional about supporting minority firms to succeed in the consulting industry which we consider part of our work. Specifically, we worked with WMBE civil and structural firms, Akana (MBE) and Exeltech Consulting, Inc. (MBE), respectively, through our trolley work for King County Metro and streetlighting work for Seattle City Light. 

What are the specific challenges that minority and women-owned businesses face? 

A challenge WMBE firms face is being included on large contracts to meet a WMBE goal only to be underutilized or not utilized at all. In addition, since they are small firms, it can be very challenging to accommodate the start/stop scheduling of government projects resulting from rushed designed periods followed by long periods of inactivity while submittals are reviewed. This becomes especially difficult when the budget authorization is provided piece-meal, so there is no opportunity to work ahead to reduce the design period workload and keep staff busy during the slow periods.  

Dean Ralphs, Elcon Principal, Vice President, Project Manager

Small Business Month

How does Elcon celebrate Small Business Month?   

As a small business, Elcon celebrates small businesses every day by buying locally, encouraging employees to do the same, and sharing our favorite small business finds with others. We also share our technical and marketing expertise with other small businesses to help them succeed, in the same way that others have helped us. 

How can people and organizations support Small Business Month?    

We've learned that you can support Small Business Month without a big budget. Organizations can support this by working to understand the limitations of small businesses to provide a truly fair and equitable selection process.

Large firms can call that small business back that has been trying to get a meeting for an opportunity to team up. Small firms can share any lessons learned with other firms to share in the success. Lastly, as individuals, we can commit to doing these things as well as supporting our local community. 

What experiences have you had that are unique to being a small business? 

 As a small business, we have the unique opportunity to wear many hats. From project management and client relations to accounting and marketing, small businesses balance many tasks to be successful. In addition, we are often called upon by public agencies and large firms to provide input to improve their small business and minority inclusion goals and plans. Balancing these tasks is challenging but highly rewarding since we know our projects contribute to public transportation at airports, marine ports, or rail transit projects to improve community connectivity. 

What does Small Business Month mean to you?  

At Elcon, Small Business Month is more than just a month-long celebration - it serves as a year-round reminder to support our local small businesses. As individuals, small businesses, large corporations, and organizations, we have a responsibility to recognize small businesses’ impact and vital role in our communities. By buying locally and supporting small businesses in any way we can, we contribute to the growth and sustainability of our neighborhoods. 

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