CEOs at the top Hispanic 8(a) contractors say the program works – but enrollment doesn't guarantee landing a contract, and to be successful management team members must take the time to learn the program's intricacies as well as aggressively market products and services that federal agencies actually need.
"Unfortunately, many companies flounder for years in 8(a) because they knock on government doors with hands out instead of building relationships," says Rocky Cintron, CEO of Force 3, one of the top money-earners among the 640 Hispanic companies enrolled in the program during FY2001, the latest year for which data are available.
Since 2001, several of the firms have "graduated" from the 8(a) program – managed by the Small Business Administration and designed to help minority firms enter the federal contracting market – so they no longer have special certification and now must compete in the open market against larger companies. But the companies' collective experience and advice offers insight for others.
"If an 8(a) company uses the status as a marketing tool, it's betting on something that has low odds of working," says Larry Barraza, CEO of Symvionics, a California-based maker of cockpit flight simulators. "We tried first to convince government agencies that we could do the job, and then mentioned 8(a) as a convenient way to access our services."
The CEOs of top 8(a) firms say they hear from other minority entrepreneurs who say the program has little benefit. "I tell them to use it to make things happen, and not sit back and wait for things to happen," says John Aleman, CEO of Selrico Services, a Texas-based firm involved in food services, building maintenance, and waste management.
|TOP 10 HISPANIC 8(A) COMPANIES|
|Rank||Company||City, state||CEO||Value of
8(a) awards ($M)
|1||ACS Systems & Engineering||Virginia Beach, VA||Chris Behling||$17.97|
|2||Force 3||Crofton, MD||Rocky Cintron||$16.56|
|3||Grundy Marine Construction||Vedra Beach, FL||Michael Grundy||$16.03|