Small Business Advocate

James Cox, Jr.

Small Business Advocate, James Cox, Jr., talks about his passion for small business growth, plus transit development.

Shataria M. Starr as (photographer and author)

James Cox, Jr. is a man on the move. On any given day you can find him at METRO working in his role as the Program Advisor Retention Manager, at HRT meeting with small businesses, or at different community, civic, and business events. Cox moves with purpose—helping Small Businesses, that are working on the METRORail Project, learn and succeed so they are ready for future projects.

We sat down for a 7-question Q&A with Cox to talk about his advocacy work for small businesses, what he thinks of transit, and the most effective moves he’s seen small businesses make to get contracts.

 Q1. What is a Retention Manager and how does it benefit SBEs?

 A.   On this project, a Retention Manager is one who identifies, researches, and analyzes issues that could prevent a small business from completing their scope of work. Those issues could include performance, invoicing, quality of work, or safety.

As a retention manager, I navigate small businesses through project requirements, such as reporting, invoicing, and performance. This is the first time, for some SBEs, to work on a project of this scale (the METRORail Expansion Project is the largest transportation project, to date, in the Texas Gulf Coast region) or to work on a federal contract, so we help them get through it. We want them to get on the job and complete the scope of work.  

Q2. What do you find most rewarding as Retention Manager?

 A.   I’ve been a small business owner too, so it’s rewarding to be in a position to help SBEs avoid pitfalls and position themselves for success. Companies who’ve successfully completed work on this project now have a track record, making them major players in the future of Houston rail. I’m glad to be a part of that.

Q3. How important are small businesses to this project and the city?

A.   Very important, mainly, because they employ so many people. With the METRO Light Rail project, small businesses are able to bring on skilled laborers who, for the last couple of years, have been unemployed. The economy took a jolt, but Houston was the last to feel the hit. This was accomplished through small business.

Q4. What do you like about working with SBEs?

A.   Once an SBE is on the project, we work hard to ensure they complete their contract. In the end, what we’ve done is build capacity, and they have credentials for working on future rail projects.

Q5. Tell me about your studies in transportation.

A.   I’m currently attending Texas Southern University working towards a doctorate in Urban Planning. I’ve completed the coursework and am in the dissertation phase. My dissertation concentrates on transit-oriented development. I’m answering the question, “How do we develop communities around rail corridors and drive ridership?” I’m also looking at how transit investments make a community a better place.

Q6. Has coursework been able to help with this job?

A.   Yes. Academically, I understand the impact rail investments have on SBEs. Light Rail investments impacts the land around corridors and impacts how well small businesses do. On this project, analyzing these impacts gives us an idea on how we’re able to position SBE’s in the local economy.

Q7. Based on the success of SBEs who have won contracts on this project, what advice could you offer SBEs wanting to get involved?

A.   Number 1, be persistent and steadfast. 2. Inject yourself into the process, like attending pre-bids. 3. Know the players. Talk to people at events. Find out who has won contracts; contact them and see if they need your services. And 4. Take advantage of training opportunities on invoicing, bidding, and pricing your product.

As an aside, I remember one SBE who I first met through Shurronda Murray (METRO Small Business Certification Specialist). We helped him through the certification process, talked to him about his marketing materials—he didn’t even have business cards at the time—and strategies for getting in front of the right people. He followed our advice, now he has multiple HRT contracts, and is doing well.


James Cox is a native Houstonian, but spent 8 years in Dallas working at the FTA Regional Office for 6 years and at DART for 2 years. He earned his BA in Political Science and his Masters in Transportation Planning from Texas Southern University.