Florida's last three governors – Republican Bob Martinez, Democrat Lawton Chiles, and incumbent Republican Jeb Bush – have pushed hard for minority business development.
"They have promoted programs through state agencies and the legislature to help us get our feet in the door," says Robert Castro Jr., CEO of American Data & Computer Products Inc., a Tampa reseller of computer systems and products with $11 million in revenues.
Enterprise Florida, the state's economic development agency, has aggressively pushed state lawmakers to pass pro-business legislation. Current projects include phasing out the state's "intangible" tax and increased funding for work-force training. Already, Florida has no state income or property taxes. It has a right-to-work provision in the state constitution, resulting in the lowest rate of manufacturing unionization.
In terms of customers, Florida's military bases and aerospace installations provide ready markets for Hispanic 8(a) businesses. The state hosts NASA's Cape Canaveral Air Station, seven Air Force bases, seven Naval installations, and five Coast Guard facilities. These facilities demand local offices of prime contractors such as Raytheon, Boeing, and Lockheed to support federal projects.
To many people in government circles, "Colorado" means "Air Force." In addition to the Air Force Academy, the state has two Air Force bases and the Cheyenne Mountain Air Station, home of the North American Aerospace Defense Command – the war room with global maps so familiar to movie-goers. Colorado also has two Army facilities and an Air National Guard base.
"The state has been very vocal about supporting small businesses and 8(a) companies," says Fred Kaplan, marketing director for Productive Data Systems (PDS), a telecommunication services firm that ranks number 86 on the HISPANIC BUSINESS 500.
Even with state support, companies must hustle to land contracts. PDS has aggressively sought government contracts by sending representatives to SBA conferences in Colorado and nearby states. The company has a full-time staffer who tracks potential 8(a) contracts. Right now, management has its eye on contracts with the Los Alamos and Sandia national laboratories in New Mexico.
In Colorado, the battle to secure new contracts appears winnable. PDS reports sales of $55 million, with 500 employees in eight cities. Contracts through the 8(a) program make up about one-fourth of its total revenue.
Finally, Colorado has a strong dynamic between private high-tech and the federal government, making it ideal for companies with a dual focus on commercial and federal markets. The American Electronics Association ranks Colorado as the number 2 state on the basis of the number of high-tech workers per thousand in the work force. The Corporation for Enterprise Development in Washington, D.C., ranks Colorado third in the number of Small Business Innovation Research Grants per worker.
Like its neighbor Virginia, Maryland has the advantage of closeness to Washington, D.C. Many of the state's Hispanic firms that benefit most from that proximity are located in the counties directly bordering the capital – Prince George's and Montgomery.
One of those firms is Washington Consulting Group Inc., a Bethesda-based company that trains air traffic controllers. "The majority of federal contracts are awarded out of Washington. If you're in the 8(a) procurement business, it's highly advisable that you be within close range of the capital," counsels Armando Chapelli Jr., the company's CEO.
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