By Don Bolding
Killeen Daily Herald
Partly because the third annual Fort Hood Region Government Vendor Conference and Expo drew so many people and partly because so many presentations were crammed into one day, the event will probably be spread over two days next year, Central Texas Business Resource Center director Marcus Carr said.
Carr was in charge of the expo last week at the Killeen Civic and Conference Center with BRC events coordinator Diane Drussell.
"The conference really went very well," he said. "The government representatives were able to provide lots of answers for people who are interested in working with the government but were stuck. They would say, 'We hear they want small business, but where do we start?' The short answer is ccr.gov, but there are a lot of questions beyond that." CCR stands for "Central Contract Registration" for the federal government.
He said he and presenters heard the comment, "I tried that and it didn't work" time and again. So the conference was designed not only to present information but to provide a full day of opportunities for face-to-face networking with government officials, with professionals who help small businesses communicate with the government, and with experienced prime contractors who were there seeking to expand their phone lists of subcontractors.
Rhonda Nebgen of Emerson Construction of Belton, which deals a lot with the Army Corps of Engineers at Fort Hood, said having a booth helped a great deal in identifying potential minority associates.
"The government and prime contractors are supposed to seek out companies owned by women, minorities and disabled veterans," she said, "but it's hard to find them just looking in the phone book. It really helped to have new interested people coming to us."
The conference is open to all small businesses, but organizers made special efforts to attract minority businesses and those in certified "historically underutilized business" districts.
Carr said the Killeen Civic and Conference Center, where all three conferences have been held, is already booked for Feb. 3 next year. He hopes to add a second day to give attendees more time to find more exhibitors.
Increase in attendees
This year's conference had more than 60 representatives from contractors and federal, state and local governments, and 260 registered attendees, many of them new to government contracting, an increase of 60 over last year. It had 13 hourlong presentations by government officials, accountants, bankers, and others, so that attendees had to miss some to attend a first choice.
Penny Stephenson of the accounting firm Lott Vernon & Co. said, "We wanted to let people know we provide a multitude of services other than taxes. We provide audits, and we can steer people new to government contracting away from numerous pitfalls connected with compliance issues and help them make sure their records are correct. The new people appreciated that because they don't want to get on the wrong side of government going in."
She made a presentation, and the company had a booth.
Terri Keese of Spectrum Printing said, "We print a lot of government forms and books, and we had a booth to let people know we do that and can help meet their needs in that direction. We're conversant with materials they may need. More than anything, we were looking for exposure and networking. There are always new people moving in."
Leo Sullivan, business development and retention specialist for the Copperas Cove Economic Development Corp., said his organization had a booth to help prospective Cove contractors connect with experts and exhibitors with answers to their specific questions.
"This conference has matured," he said. "Government is more active in trying to hook up with small business, and people need more assistance in learning how." The CCEDC participated in the previous conferences, as well.
Tom Creek of First State Bank Central Texas talked about obtaining financing to work on a government contract. He said businesses must be aware that a contract will not qualify them for a loan because it's not collateral.
"They have to have some other collateral to get started, and they have to be credit-worthy. Once a contract is fulfilled, it becomes a receivable, and that is collateral. The government can send the check to us if the contractor defaults on a loan.
"We hope people will complete one contract and pay off the loan that financed it, then build on that with other loans, on and on."
A few tips
He said people new to government contracting are well advised to start with small contracts that don't amount to much of their revenue and build up. People can land federal contracts under $3,000 without bidding, and agencies can pay them with credit cards.
In an opening session, Timothy Woods of the Center for Government Contracting of the Small Business Development Center of El Centro College in Dallas said, "The federal government is the world's largest buyer, operating continuously on many levels. They need paper clips to rocket ships."
He said anything about government contracting can be found on the Internet, even though the information is complex. He said 95 to 97 percent of contracts are under $25,000, and 14,000 businesses each year are first-time contractors.
He advised attendees to establish themselves with small contracts while making long-term plans, saying contractors have to establish a file in ccr.gov as a first step.
"The prime entry source is micropurchases of under $3,000 that can be awarded with only one bidder."
Woods and associates in different agencies make periodic visits to Central Texas. They can be reached through Carr's office at (254) 200-2001.
Contact Don Bolding at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7557.