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Nevada women-owned businesses missing out on federal contracts

Updated March 23, 2017 - 6:04 pm

Nevada women who own small businesses are missing out on millions of federal dollars, data show.

According to the latest State of Women-Owned Businesses report, Las Vegas is home to 75,600 women-owned businesses, but a Small Business Administration database search shows only about 270 businesses have initiated the process necessary to compete for federal contracts specifically set aside for certified women-owned small businesses.

Heather Avila, owner of Las Vegas-based Live Electric Inc., said she is interested in becoming certified, but she hasn’t been able to complete the application.

“We’re not aggressively seeking any (federal contracts), but if the opportunity came up and it’s something that worked well for us, I’d like to have the opportunity. And for us, being certified would be the only way to have that opportunity,” Avila said. “We’re a small, small shop. Being in construction, I mean, we can’t compete with all the big boys for some of these contracts.”

The Small Business Administration has several programs, like the Women Owned Small Business (WOSB) Federal Contracting program, designed to give small businesses a leg up in competing for federal contracts. Businesses are self-certified but verified by the administration. Federal executive agencies have a goal of awarding 5 percent of all prime and subcontracts to women-owned small businesses.

The process of self-certifying to become a WOSB and the process for a federal contracting officer to award a WOSB a contract are equally daunting, said Amy Kim, women-owned small business program manager at the SBA’s Office of Government Contracting.

“The program is set up in a very, very unique way,” Kim said, which has contributed to low numbers of self-certifying businesses and low numbers of federal contracting officers using the program to award certified businesses with contracts.


 

In fiscal 2016, the federal government awarded $19.6 billion to women-owned small businesses that didn’t go through the process, but only $404 million was awarded to certified WOSBs, businesses that did go through the process.

“The understanding and awareness of the program is growing, but it’s just that people have this perception that, ‘Oh, it’s complicated, so I don’t want to bother with it.’ And then also the contracting agency says, ‘I’m meeting my woman-owned small business goal outside of the parameters of the program anyways, so why would I bother with it?” Kim said.

Because of low program participation, there is less competition for contracts within the WOSB set-aside program, which Kim said has driven more businesses to get in the game.

INCREASING INTEREST

Avila has twice failed to complete the self-certification process on the Small Business Administration website.

“I first applied in the summer of 2014, and they closed the application 30 days after I opened it,” Avila said. “We started the application process again last October, but I got an email in January saying, ‘Your application has expired.’ ”

“Once you understand how the program actually works, the program has a large payoff,” Kim said.

ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT

Multiple organizations have made it their mission to help women understand the program and help them to get that payoff.

The Nevada Women’s Business Center hosted a discussion about certification this month, and the SBA, Women Impacting Public Policy and American Express OPEN hosted an event March 16 dedicated to educating women about the certification process.

Anna Siefert, the Nevada community liaison at Women’s Business Enterprise Council-West, said it’s a challenge to let women know there are resources available to help them self-certify.

“I would say about 30 percent of the people I meet don’t know about WBEC or the resources we provide,” Siefert said.“And we’re not the only ones. The Nevada Procurement Technical Assistance Center will also walk people through the process.”

Avila said she was not aware that she didn’t have to go through the self-certification process alone, which she said would “definitely” have helped.

A DOOR TO MORE DOORS

Lin Stuart, director of procurement programs at Women Impacting Public Policy, said many women business owners who are involved with federal contracts will also be involved with local government contracts.

Avila is on that track, as she is hoping to position her company to be able to compete for local contracts to work on projects, like the prospective NFL stadium that could house the Raiders.

While the Nevada Department of Transportation would require its own certification process similar to the SBA women-owned business certification, department spokesman Tony Illia said going through the SBA process will prepare applicants for his department’s program.

Contact Nicole Raz at nraz@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4512. Follow @JournalistNikki on Twitter.

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