Why I Started The Montgomery County Small Business Association

My name is Ken O’Connell and the name of my business is O’Connell & Lawrence, Inc. I am the co-founder of O’Connell & Lawrence, Inc.  May, 2019 will mark our 25th year in business.  We are a Montgomery County, small business.  I am extremely proud of our engineering/consulting company.  I am equally proud of founding the Montgomery County Small Business Association.  I am a lifelong Montgomery County resident. . . I love Montgomery County.  I love living here, I love working here. . . this is my story, so here it goes.

OCL was formed as, has always been and will always be a local Small Business.  We are certified as such in the State of Maryland, Commonwealth of Virginia and every other regional jurisdiction but most importantly we are a certified small business in Montgomery County.  We have been a local Montgomery County Small Business since the program began in April 2015.  I fancy OCL as “David” in a world of “Goliaths”. . . we have competed against the big regional and national engineering firms since our inception . . . a daunting task for a little firm located in Olney, Maryland.

The Montgomery County Department of Transportation advertised for a project in March 2008.  This was not a Local Small Business Procurement.  A large, complicated project, which this little firm from Olney decided to pursue . . . why not?  After all, this was my “home County” and OCL had established itself and done some really good work for our home County on other assignments.

So it began . . . we worked on that proposal day and night . . . we assembled a team of firms and individuals with all of the requisite experience and expertise required . . .  a team led by a local Montgomery County Small Business.  A business that, by the way, paid real estate taxes to Montgomery County, had all of its employees living in Montgomery County, bought all of its cars, gas and office supplies in Montgomery County (you get the point).

Well we submitted a proposal, 3 inches thick at a cost of about 40,000 dollars – an awful lot of money for our little firm but we were confident.  Unfortunately, we were not selected – something I had become all to accustom to when competing against the big regional and national firms in proposals to the State of Maryland but this somehow felt different, this was, after all, my home County.  So we asked for a debriefing.

When that fateful day arrived, we (myself and Executive Vice President – Joe Johnson) sat in a conference room with the head of the evaluation team from Montgomery County Department of Transportation.  He proceeded to tell us, for about 30 minutes, how excellent our team, our proposal, our experience and expertise was . . . And then came the punch line, and I mean the “punch” line, not figuratively like in a joke, but like a real punch, in the gut!  He said that we actually had “tied with the other firm” and the decision was made by a coin toss to award the contract to the other firm (to this day, I don’t know if he meant that literally or figuratively, it didn’t matter. . . I couldn’t speak) it gets worse . . . the contract was awarded to a firm that was not only not from Montgomery County, but not even from the state of Maryland.

To this day, I remember leaving the building and sitting in my car for what seemed like hours.  A range of emotions swept over me, anger, hurt, frustration, disbelief but mostly I felt betrayed.  Betrayed by my County . . . I felt like crying but I guess just like in baseball, there’s no crying in business. . . I decided to do something, something I had never done before . . . go talk to some politicians . . . the rest of the story in my next blog. P.S. In fairness to Montgomery County, some things have changed.  We have several people in Montgomery County government who care about and support local small businesses.  We have a newly elected County Executive who, I know personally to be true, cares about and supports Montgomery County Local Small Businesses.  But we have a long way to go. . .