Many small businesses that have no experience contracting with government at any level often begin with the federal market.
No so fast.
Federal Government Contracting Officers will look for contractors that have past experience with either state or local government contracts, said Luis Batista, procurement specialist with Florida PTAC at FIU. In addition, Batista said, the federal market is much more complex.
For small businesses that want to break into contracting, we will concentrate in this post on how the local, state or educational contracting market can be helpful in creating “Performance History,” and as importantly, gaining the experience needed to work with the federal government.
THE BENEFITS OF STARTING IN THE SUNSHINE STATE
Think about the size of the marketplace: Florida has 67 counties and Miami-Dade alone has 35 cities. We could list many pluses of starting locally. Here are a few of them:
- In Miami-Dade County, like many counties, there is a Small Business Enterprise (SBE) Certification. The advantage is that there is a set-aside for Small Business and a Small Business Development (SBD) department to assist small businesses.
- Miami-Dade County has a list of Pre-Qualified Contractors. In MDC, the list contains over 200 different categories. In construction there are also two plans to consider joining: the 7040 & 7360. Under the MCC 7360 Plan, contractors may respond to a Request for Price Quotation without being a registered vendor or a MCC 7360 participant.
- Locally, you will be able to more easily attend Pre-Bid meetings, Site Inspections and Bid Openings, which are all opportunities to both network and gauge your competition.
- Florida does not have Set-Asides for certifications, however the state has been increasing its spend on certified companies in all sectors, Batista said. For example, the state’s total agency spending with certified businesses has jumped 56%, from $229.6 million in 2014-2015 to $357.4 million in 2017-2018.
The federal market is muchy more complex as its needs are vastly greater, Batista said. To address this, the Federal Market has taken what the Local Market terms Pre-Qualified to a much higher level. There are resources like GSA & FSS Schedules, BPA’s, GWAC’s, and a number of Certifications such as the SDVOSB, WOSB, HUBZone and 8(a). The U.S. government also has many other systems put in place to facilitate federal government procurement.
So, if you are a business, looking to expand your market into government, we recommend that you consider testing the waters with your local or state government market.
THE DOWNSIDES VS. THE FEDERAL MARKET
On the con side, there are several. For example, local governments tend to offer “local vendor preferences,” making it difficult for others to compete. That works great for those only competing in their local market, not so great if your market is nationwide as there are over 3,000+ counties in the U.S.
Local governments will also often have certifications like Miami-Dade County’s SBE (Small Business Enterprise), which may or may not be recognized by other government entities. The federal system’s certifications are recognized across the federal government.
The ability to “team” with other providers is greatly facilitated in the federal system, giving you an opportunity to learn with those that have been Prime contractors. Locally, you are more likely to self-perform all of most of the work, Batista said.
WHERE TO LEARN MORE
Find a PTAC (Procurement Technical Assistance Center) office near you here — http://fptac.org – where you can consult with a specialist as part of its free services, including its BidMatch program. Consultants at Florida SBDC at FIU, the small business development center within the university’s College of Business, can also help small businesses with a series of next steps.
Miami-Dade County offers a series of 2020 workshops on “How to Prepare a Request for Proposals (RFP)” as well as other procurement topics. Florida SBDC at FIU and Florida PTAC also offer workshops periodically.
The State of Florida and also Miami-Dade County have Mentor Protégé Programs, which pair an established business owner with a certified women-, veteran- or minority business owner for guidance and feedback.
In future posts, we will explore some state and local contracting success stories and share more resources and programs for government contracting. Stay tuned to GrowBiz.
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