Some 1,000 companies from around the globe, drawn by a bonanza of public funding allotted for California's proposed bullet train, descended Tuesday on the Los Angeles Convention Center angling for a piece of one of the biggest public works projects in American history.
With state officials committed to breaking ground next year on a $43-billion Los Angeles-to-San Francisco high-speed rail link, would-be bidders from Asia, Europe and across the United States are lining up to compete.
Tuesday's event was the first gathering of firms hoping to design, build or operate part of the network of trains slated to run up to 220 miles per hour between major cities in California.
California High-Speed Rail Authority officials came Tuesday seeking something as well: to mobilize a broad coalition of large and small businesses to lobby for more government funding.
"Now we need to hear from you," board Chairman Curt Pringle told the crowd that filled much of an exhibition hall the size of a football field. Washington decision-makers need to hear what the project could mean to you, he told the audience.
Just a day earlier, President Obama and GOP leaders in Congress announced spending cuts to address the federal deficit, including nearly $3 billion already earmarked for high-speed rail.
California has done well in the administration's push to build high-speed rail, obtaining about $3.75 billion in federal grants. But the state still needs tens of billions of dollars in federal and private funding to finish even the 520-mile first phase of the system.
Pringle and other project backers Tuesday said the continuing fight over trimming the federal deficit makes pushing for future bullet train funding crucial.
Attendees appeared to get the message. Los Angeles photographer Greg Verville, looking to land work with large construction and design firms, said he would write to federal lawmakers.
"The more people they get contacting them," the more likely they are to support additional outlays, he said.
"My pitch is, 'I'm a small business and this would be a huge shot in the arm,' " he said, describing the project as a historic opportunity to move the state forward.
Later, Verville joined hundreds of small-business owners queued up for meet-and-greet sessions with prime contractors and vendors, such as Japanese manufacturer Kawasaki Heavy Industries, which hopes the state will buy its rail cars. The goal was to make contacts that might lead to subcontracts.
"It's worth it," said Joel Harris, a 28-year-old associate engineer with Los Angeles-based GC Tech. The minority-owned engineering and consulting firm was scouting for large bidders in need of computer-assisted design and other services. "It could open doors for us."