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Spurned Adman: Law Should Allow Local Bias in Contracts

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About two weeks after the city decided to hire a Denver company to market Richmond as a place to do business, a local advertising executive is out to change state law.

Dave Saunders, the president and chief idea officer at Madison and Main, says he’s been speaking with state legislators about Virginia and its localities giving preference to local companies in awarding contracts. Governments are barred from doing so in most cases.

Saunders is working with lobbyist Aimee Perron Siebert, owner of the Hillbridge Group, and plans to rally business owners from several industries to press for legislative changes. “We’d like to bring in various organizations that have members concerned about keeping the economy strong and keeping jobs local,” Saunders says.

The idea is that by hiring Richmond companies, the city would reinvest tax money into the community. The Greater Richmond Chamber’s president, Kim Scheeler, says he hadn’t heard about Saunders’ plan, but that the idea of giving local companies some preference is a good notion.

“I think a lot depends on what the contract is, what it’s for, where are you going to get the best job done for the money,” Scheeler says. “But certainly that’s something that could be taken into consideration.”

Ideally, he says, Richmond organizations would be competitive enough regardless.

City spokeswoman Tammy Hawley says that Mayor Dwight Jones would be interested in changing state law accordingly. “Pursuing a legislative change like that takes some research and strategy,” she says, “and that’s something that he has been very interested in exploring.”

A swath of Richmonders, including local creative execs, expressed dismay at the decision announced July 27 to award Denver-based Atlas Advertising a contract for brand development, website design and creative services for the Economic and Community Development Department. Madison and Main was the only local finalist, Saunders says.

The winning proposal is sealed until a contract is signed. Hawley says the city will release more details once a contract is complete. “It should be clear that many local firms chose not to participate in this process,” she says, though there was “extensive outreach.”

Saunders says his campaign isn’t the byproduct of sour grapes. Since he’s spoken out, he says qualified local business owners have told him stories of losing out on local contracts and laying off workers as a result. “Everybody’s coming to me with their stories,” he says, “and I’m listening to them.”

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