Work for refueling tanker cheering contractors

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WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - Preparations at McConnell Air Force Base for the arrival of the first 36 new KC-46A air refueling tankers are expected to boost contracting opportunities for area businesses.

A recent groundbreaking ceremony marked the start of the first $197 million in new construction projects. Congress has allotted a total of $219 million for the tanker work at the Wichita base.

The Wichita Eagle reports (http://bit.ly/1j1a7RT ) that while most of those new contracted opportunities are construction related, officials say there are other contracting possibilities at the base.

Dennis Fry, small business specialist in Air Force contracting at McConnell, said the base is always seeking contractors for things ranging from custodial work to firefighting equipment and repair of existing facilities.

But area companies say competition for government contracts has intensified.

“When the commercial economy was not doing well, the government economy was pretty stable,” said Beth Harshfield, owner of Exhibit Arts. “Now, it’s almost like it’s switched. . Where you used to get 10 to 15 bids on a project, now you’re getting 40 to 50.”

Harshfield and her husband, Vernon, operate a company that provides management and trade show services as well as marketing and promotional products. Its first contract work was doing projects for Navy recruiting, and the company has since expanded to recruiting for the Air Force and other federal agencies. It employs 18 people in Wichita and 86 more across the country working on federal contracts.

Their company, Exhibit Arts, also delivers mail from the post office to the dormitories that house McConnell’s enlisted personnel.

Federal contract opportunities in Kansas average between $1.5 billion and $2 billion annually, said Wayne Bell, district director for the Small Business Administration’s Wichita office.

About 23 percent of those contracts are open to bid by small businesses, and a good bit of that work goes to local firms, he said.

His office usually refers businesses starting out in federal contracting to the Kansas Procurement Technical Assistance Center at Wichita State University, which officers free classes for business owners.

The center, established last year, teaches basic government contracting and works with companies on understanding contract proposals, said Scott Knapp, its deputy director. It also helps small businesses with government contract proposals.

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Information from: The Wichita (Kan.) Eagle, http://www.kansas.com

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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