What small businesses need to know about supplying goods and services to the government

Monday, June 18, 2012
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Most of us don't think of the government as a business, but just like other businesses it has to purchase goods and services in order to operate. Government agencies contract to purchase everything from paper clips to space ships.

"It's something almost any business could qualify for because there is always a need," said Carolyn Jones, director of the eastern region for the Missouri Procurement Technical Assistance Center. Jones' organization helps businesses wade through the red tape in order to compete for and win government contracts.

Before a business can be eligible for government contracts, it must be registered in the right places and make sure they have the proper certifications that apply to their particular business, said Jones, who recently led a workshop in Perryville, Mo., in conjunction with the Southeast Missouri State University Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

The first step is to obtain a Dun & Bradstreet, or D-U-N-S, Number. This is a unique nine-digit identification number for each physical location of a business. Getting a D-U-N-S Number is free for all businesses and is required to register with the federal government for contracts or grants.

Once a business has obtained its D-U-N-S number, it should visit The Business Partner Network website, which is the single source for vendor data for the federal government. On this site, businesses may access the Central Contractor Registration, the official contractor database for the federal government where anyone wishing to do business with the government must be registered.

Federal government agencies as well as many state and local government agencies have small business participation goals and diversity programs that require them to use small businesses that meet certain socioeconomic requirements.

Federal certifications are available for a variety of socioeconomic circumstances, including:

HUBZone: The Historically Underutilized Business Zones (HUBZone) program helps small businesses in urban and rural communities gain preferential access to federal procurement opportunities. These preferences go to small businesses that obtain HUBZone certification in part by employing staff who live in a HUBZone. The company must also maintain a "principal office" in one of these specially designated areas.

Veteran-Owned: Certified Veteran-Owned and Service-Disabled Veteran Owned businesses receive priority contracting opportunities under VA's Veterans First Buying Authority as well as special consideration for contracting opportunities with federal government agencies.

Woman-Owned Businesses: To be eligible for this certification, a firm must be at least 51 percent owned and controlled by one or more women, and primarily managed by one or more women.

Small Disadvantaged Business: Section 8(a) of the Small Business Act was created to help small and disadvantaged businesses compete in the marketplace. It also helps these companies gain access to federal and private procurement markets.

Competing for government contracts requires an investment of time, both to initially register and to research for bid opportunities, Jones said.

"Government contracting can be overwhelming if you're not understanding. We can take you by the hand and lead you through the maze," she said.

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill recently hosted Missouri's 24th annual Procurement Conference at the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg, Mo., in an effort to provide tools to businesses looking to contract with government agencies. More than 200 government buying offices and 1,300 contractors were invited to the conference.

"Missouri's hardworking and innovative small business owners can compete with anyone for these contracts as long as they have the right information and a level playing field," McCaskill said in a statement to Business Today. "When Missouri small businesses have a fair shot at getting these contracts and the jobs that come with them, I know they can outcompete anyone."

For more information on the Missouri Procurement Technical Assistance Center, visit www.missouribusiness.net/ptac.

Competing for Government Contracts Online

D-U-N-S Number: fedgov.dnb.com/webform

Central Contractor Registry: www.bpn.gov

HUBZone: www.sba.gov/hubzone

Veteran-Owned: www.vetbiz.gov

Women-Owned: www.sba.gov/content/contracting-opportun...

Disadvantaged: www.sba.gov/content/8a-business-developm...

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