Never mind the steamy weather, connecting local small businesses with
big government contracts was the hot topic at the FedEx Institute of Technology on Monday during U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen's procurement fair that drew about 200
For the second consecutive year -- and the third time since the event was first staged in 2010 -- Cohen hosted a public workshop aimed at demystifying the process of bidding on and winning contracts for government projects. On hand were representatives from seven state and federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. General Services Administration, the U.S. Small Business Administration and the Tennessee Procurement Technical Assistance Center.
"We want to bring as many federal contracts as we can to our community," said Cohen, a Memphis Democrat. "Small businesses are not only job generators, but also the heart of the American dream. The opportunity for our companies to participate in the process is important to the macro economy of the city of Memphis and it's vital to the micro economies of our individual small businesses."
But despite the myriad opportunities for small businesses to become government vendors, most local small companies don't pursue those projects, Cohen said. Some small business owners may find the application process daunting, but many others may not think that the goods or services they offer are of interest to the federal government.
Nothing could be further from the truth, said Saundra Jackson, state deputy district director for the SBA.
Describing the federal government as the biggest buyer in the world, Jackson said that the annual price tag for goods and services tops $500 billion and covers just about anything a business -- large or small -- provides. And that includes everything from paper clips to armored tanks.
"We help small businesses start and grow and succeed," Jackson said to the standing-room-only crowd. "Small businesses make up 23 percent of government contracts every year and we can find a market for what you're offering."
For example, many entrepreneurs may not consider exploring the energy industry, said Cassandra Stuart, who manages the small business programs office at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. But the East Tennessee facility, which is the Department of Energy's largest science and energy lab, spent $261 million subcontracting with small business vendors in 2012.
The same is true for other federal agencies and the Tennessee Procurement Technical Assistance Center offers many free services to help small business owners access those kinds of government contracts, said program manager Joe Flynn. The office assists entrepreneurs by matching their companies with governmental departments they may want to work with and guides business owners through the contracting process.
"We work with companies from startups to large businesses that want to contract with the government, whether they've had any experience with that or not," Flynn said. "It can seem really daunting when you first get into government contracting, but the more you do it the more you realize that it's pretty simple. It just takes time."
Taking advantage of these services is vital for business owners who want to enter the federal market, said Walter Perry, state district director for the SBA. And it can also be profitable.
During 2011 -- the most recent figures available -- the federal government awarded $91.5 billion in contracts to small businesses.
"Small business owners should do their homework and know what the agencies across the country and in their regions need," Perry said. "There's a great marketplace out there, they just have to be prepared before they jump into it."
To learn more about government contracting, contact Saundra Jackson at 901-526-9300. Or call Russell Toone in the Jackson, Tenn., state Procurement Technical Assistance Center at 731-425-4777.
Federal Agency contacts for small business owners
Association of Procurement Technical Assistance Centers: www.aptac-us.org
Dept. of Energy: www.energy.gov
Dept. of Housing and Urban Development: www.hud.gov
General Services Administration: www.gsa.gov
Minority Business Development Agency: www.mbda.gov
Small Business Administration: www.sba.gov
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers: www.usace.army.mil
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