GARY | For months, Ronald Ross waited for a phone call to say he was going to be a Super Bowl subcontractor.
That call came in January and it was attached to what he described as an "impossible" request.
The mission: Produce 6,000 blue, orange and white large dinner napkins embossed with the Super Bowl XLVI logo and ship them to Indianapolis as soon as possible. Vendors told him they couldn't meet the deadline to produce the logo on the napkins, and Ross found it would be too difficult to ship the product downstate under the time constraint.
"I didn't get anything but at the last moment, which was two weeks ago," said Ross, owner of Ross Food, Paper and Janitorial Supply in Gary. "... Then they send me a check and wanted me to hand carry the samples down there. I was very disappointed."
Ross was one of the more than 20 Northwest Indiana firms selected in October to be part of a National Football League business development program to increase opportunities for minority- and women-owned firms in the area hosting the Super Bowl. Among the region firms in the program managed by the 2012 Indianapolis Super Bowl Host Committee, The Times was only able to find a few that received contracts for services or products.
Marshawn Wolley, director of the Emerging Business program and community outreach for the host committee, said the NFL and the host committee told business owners around Indiana there would be limited opportunities, and that it wouldn't provide an opportunity for anyone to get rich. While there are about 400 businesses in the database, Wolley said about 20 percent have received contracts to work on various projects. Figures weren't available for what the total value of those contracts were, but it likely represents hundreds of thousands of dollars.
"You can't expect to go into any community (and) expect businesses to be prepared for the scope and scale for the Super Bowl," Wolley said. "That's why they primarily focus on business development. We did do a significant statewide outreach because we felt like it was important to reach out to businesses around the state."
Breanne Steagall said she has made 10 trips to Indianapolis as part of the Emerging Business program, and she found each one worthwhile. Steagall's uniform and industrial laundry company BSE Inc., received its first contract about a month ago to do laundry for a group of 50 people working Super Bowl related events.
"It's exciting to be down there," Steagall said. "Everything's set up. There's a whole atmosphere down there that's exciting. I'm sure some people got really big contracts. For us, it's not really a large job, but it's exciting to be part of such a large thing."
Judy Crowell, owner of Blackjack Uniforms and Sklarewitz Uniforms in Hammond, said she received a $3,000 order last week from S.A.F.E. Management to provide black knit hats for security personnel. When reached Wednesday, she said her company also was filling an order for a few thousand pairs of gloves.
Despite the short notice, Crowell said it has been fun attending the seminars and being involved in the Super Bowl effort.
The Emerging Business program also worked to help companies beyond the game by hosting informational conference calls, a scholarship program and business mentoring services, Wolley said.
Wolley said he's familiar with the contract with Ross and is hopeful the task can be completed.
"One of the things we're trying to do is create opportunities," Wolley said. "Of course, we could've bought napkins in Indianapolis. I could have went across the street and bought them at a Speedway gas station."
The Super Bowl seemed like the perfect elixir for Ross to jumpstart his dormant food, paper, building and janitorial supply business. After managing successful contracts with entities such as area gaming venues and the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District, economic conditions forced him to close the business in 2007 and his wife Barbara died the following year. He is trying to restart his operation.
In December 2010, Ross started the process that included making multiple trips to Indianapolis to find out what the NFL and host committees were looking for in vendors. With the effort firms put in to meet deadlines and go through the laborious process of applying to be part of the program, he wishes that more of the wealth was spread to firms in the region.
"They're trying to throw some crumbs this way, but you had a year to prepare," Ross said about the Super Bowl host committee.
Ross has decided he plans to hold on to the $60 check from the host committee to provide napkin samples as a memento – unless they want it back.