- The Washington Times - Friday, January 24, 2003

The Small Business Administration yesterday introduced a program designed to give small-business owners a better chance of pitching their services and supplies to federal, local and state contractors.
The "matchmaking" program is an initiative by the SBA, the U.S. office for small business, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to match more small businesses nationwide with government contracts that are designated for small businesses.
"Small businesses want the same thing as big businesses, more business," said Hector Barreto, SBA administrator who is leading the program. "This program is a way of identifying small business to government contractors so that more contract dollars will stay on the Main Street."
The program was created to help small businesses get better access to 23 percent of federal contracts that are designated for small businesses, Mr. Barreto said.
The U.S. Office of Management and Budget acknowledged last October federal contracts to small businesses have decreased 56 percent in the past decade.
The program is also intended to be a more efficient version of SBA's Pro-Net, an online-search engine of small businesses that is used by federal contractors, Mr. Barreto said.
Pro-Net had more than 20 corporations listed as small businesses in November, though most, like GTSI Corp., have been deleted.
The program starts with a small business going online at www.sba.gov/gc and registering. The business must have fewer than 500 employees and less than $6 million in annual revenue to be considered.
The SBA works with local governments to determine which federal contracts are suitable to each business, and then sets up appointments during the program's face-to-face conventions.
The conventions allow a small-business owner a 15-minute interview with an agency's procurement officer. In two pilot programs held last year, the two-day events conducted 1,700 interviews in Washington for $1.1 billion in contracts and 1,800 interviews in Cleveland for $2 billion in contracts.
The interview does not guarantee a contract, but Sandra Harley, chief executive officer and president of a Baltimore advertising firm, said her participation in a pilot program gave her contacts she would not have found on her own.
"I never considered going for federal contracts, but the program cut down a lot of the red tape," said Miss Harley with Sahara Communications Inc.
While Miss Harley did not secure a contract, she did meet with contract officers from Nation's Bank, Georgia Power and the U.S. Health and Human Services Department during the event.
The program's first convention this year is to start March 4 in Orlando, Fla. Other upcoming conventions will be held in Washington, Cleveland, Atlanta, New York, Chicago, St. Louis, New Orleans, Detroit, Seattle, Boston, Dallas and Birmingham, Ala.

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