Prime contracting is very attractive to companies working in the public sector. Competition is tough, and winning as a prime isn’t easy, particularly if you are a small business. The State of Maryland has changed its laws in order to give small businesses more prime contracting opportunities.
Senate Bill (SB) 309/House Bill (HB) 433, which became effective October 1, 2017, expands the Small Business Reserve (SBR) Program from 23 agencies to 70 agencies/departments and increases the set aside from 10 percent to 15 percent, flowing 50 percent more activity through the program.
Maryland created this race- and gender-neutral program in 2004; establishing an exclusive environment where small businesses compete against other small businesses. Agencies set SBR goals on a contract-by-contract basis and only registered SBR vendors can receive an award for a contract designated as SBR.
By 2017 the state registry included nearly 6,000 SBR vendors and more than 1,600 SBR vendors won contracts, receiving payments that totaled almost $389.7 million, said Lisa Mitchell Sennaar, compliance manager for the Small Business Reserve Program.
It took about 10 years to meet the 10-percent goal. To help reach the new 15-percent goal more quickly, the Governor’s Office of Small, Minority, & Women Business Affairs has stepped up efforts to register small businesses for the SBR Program and prepare them to compete for state contracts.
The office’s website — goMDsmallbiz.maryland.gov — offers information and online resources for small business owners to see if they qualify and find out how to participate in the program.
Through quick links from the office’s homepage, users can get answers, guidance and even find tips on getting their concerns before decision makers. Users can also link directly to Maryland’s Procurement Portal, procurement.maryland.gov, to register their business with the state and learn how to use the state’s eMaryland Marketplace portal to find information and solicitations and to submit bids.
Longtime computer service and sales professional Steve Albinak signed up with Maryland’s SBR Program soon after he started Cockeysville-based Star Computer Supply in 2010.
Through the SBR Program Albinak has worked with about 25 state agencies, getting to know the objectives and needs of the agencies to better serve them.
He sells computers, software and related equipment to agencies and businesses and relies on his knowledge, connections and purchase volume to get customers the best product and price.
He also makes bids in other states, including Virginia, Pennsylvania and California.
But “Maryland definitely has a pretty sophisticated system that is set up for the outreach and everything else that I don’t see from other states,” Albinak said.
“Maryland makes it a lot easier and a lot more friendly — it seems like a very modern type of program — to get qualified and then to stay qualified,” he said. “I like the streamlining, they are revamping procurement processes.”
When small businesses compete in set-aside programs that level the playing field, they do win more contracts, small business owners said.
Sometimes Star Computer Supply wins in open competition against large national and international companies, Albinak noted. But there are many cases when big companies cannot beat small ones, he said.
“A large number of people have businesses like mine that are pretty self-contained, high-service, high-touch sorts of businesses” and those appeal to customers who want to talk to someone if they have a problem, he said.
Mitchell Sennaar said she believes more client-centered service will serve Maryland agencies.
“I think little guys work harder and I think the state will be the beneficiary in terms of quality,” she said.
To help connect providers and clients, each agency participating in the Small Business Reserve Program must designate a liaison who oversees that agency’s contracting and outreach to small companies.
Also, the Governor’s Office of Small, Minority & Women Business Affairs brings agency procurement officers out to meet small business owners at monthly Ready, Set, GROW! workshops.
These free workshops are held around the state to connect small business owners with buyers from state agencies who tell what they plan to buy.
Free one-day technical training classes — on topics from proposal writing and bidding to bookkeeping — are offered at the office’s facility in Crownsville on the fourth Tuesday of each month.
User may go to the Governor’s Office of Small, Minority & Women Business Affairs home page and register your email address in the GET CONNECTED box to receive notices of all workshops and training events.
Pat and Jack Savage started their government work as a federal contractor. They registered Advanced Government Solutions Inc. with Maryland’s SBR Program about four years ago.
Over three years the state has paid their Crofton-based company about $1.25 million for information technology services, including updating Maryland’s firearms licensing system.
They still do federal work, but as federal funds were redirected and reduced, Maryland’s SBR Program helped propel them into state government work, they said.
With at least four bids in the works, J.D. Clark Professional Services is also looking to Maryland’s SBR Program to keep building the Upper Marlboro-based facilities maintenance, renovations and grounds management business.
Owner Tisa J.D. Clark said she particularly likes that the SBR Program offers more opportunities to work as a prime contractor and to have a direct connection to the client. She also likes that it reduces the wait and uncertainties about the payment that small companies experience when they work as subcontractors.
To win an SBR contract, businesses must register each year. Registration is free.
This article is featured in the 2018 edition of The Daily Record’s Expanding Opportunites Resource Guide for Small, Minority and Women Businesses. Published in conjunction with the Governor’s Office of Small, Minority & Women Business Affairs, Expanding Opportunities explores diversity, entrepreneurship and innovation in Maryland’s small business community. Read more from Expanding Opportunities on this website or read the digital edition.