Small businesses across the United States reaped a record $154.2 billion in federal contracts in fiscal 2021. That’s a lot of moolah for Main Street.
Of that amount, $237,957,568 flowed directly to West Virginia small businesses. Sounds like a hefty sum – and it is – until you consider the Mountain State’s share represents a paltry 0.16 percent slice of the federal pie.
West Virginians are leaving a lot of opportunity on the table.
Why government contracting?
Federal contracts can be lucrative. They provide opportunities to diversify, fund capital improvements and expand existing operations. They create jobs. For struggling mom-and-pop operations, particularly in the era of Covid and rising inflation, federal contracts can be a lifeline.
But who has time to scour government websites looking for opportunity in obscure places? Who’s going to assess your business operations to determine capabilities then match you directly to contracting opportunities? Who’s going to notify you about specific bid postings?
Help is available
Invaluable resources such as the U.S. Small Business Administration, the West Virginia Small Business Development Center and the Regional Contracting Assistance Center can help with certain aspects of government contracting. They can assist in determining your eligibility, aid in obtaining certifications that give you a leg up when bidding on contracts and assist with the application process.
We at Marshall University’s Robert C. Byrd Institute (RCBI) work closely with these partners, which serve thousands of small businesses each year. In addition to the great work these organizations do, RCBI now can add our expertise, taking that next step to directly match individual businesses with specific federal contracting opportunities.
Your direct connection
To boost the number and value of federal contracts flowing to West Virginia manufacturers, RCBI has launched an initiative to connect individual small businesses directly to federal contracting opportunities, particularly ones in the Defense sector.
We started by hiring James Westbrook as government contracting specialist. His position was made possible through RCBI’s participation in the AIM Higher Consortium, a regional collaborative to boost Defense spending in West Virginia and southwestern Pennsylvania.
Westbrook’s mission is to serve as a one-stop shop for government contracting. He will assess the capabilities and capacities of manufacturers across West Virginia, search through the myriad of contracting opportunities and match the appropriate small businesses to those opportunities. Oh, and he’ll help you develop and submit your contract proposals.
That’s not just his passion, it’s his full-time job.
“Our intentions are not to duplicate the services of other providers but to fill a void,” said RCBI Deputy Director Derek Scarbro. “For more than 30 years, RCBI has been connecting manufacturers to contracting opportunities. Now we have someone dedicated to keeping abreast of the latest contracting opportunities, working to understand the particular abilities of individual manufacturers then helping businesses aggressively go after the contracts.”
Westbrook, a U.S. Navy veteran, has extensive experience in economic development. He most recently served as business research manager for Advantage Valley and previously worked in business development for the West Virginia Department of Agriculture.
“James’s understanding of the federal contracting process and his military experience position him well to lead our efforts to bring more federal contracting dollars to West Virginia,” Scarbro said.
Take the next step
If your manufacturing operation already fulfills government contracts, good for you. Contact Westbrook to let him know what types of new contracts you’re interested in pursuing. Invite him to observe your operations so he can identify ways you might pivot to expand opportunity in the federal contracting arena.
Don’t be intimidated if your small business has never pursued federal contracts. Everyone has to start somewhere. Your somewhere is here at RCBI. Begin by reaching out to Westbrook at [email protected] or 304.720.7740 to learn about the wide world of federal government contracting opportunities.
Why not pursue your share of that $154.2 billion in government contracts? With RCBI’s help, it’s now easier than ever.
Mike Friel is director of communications for Marshall University’s Robert C. Byrd Institute (RCBI). He previously served as president of a West Virginia-based national manufacturer of educational materials. A former newspaper reporter and editor, Friel is a graduate of Marshall University.