Procuring contracts may not sound the most glamorous of topics, however, this panel was not only information-packed but all of our speakers from government and local agencies made themselves incredibly accessible to our attendees. Obtaining government contracts take some work, but with a little dedication, they can be a potentially lucrative part of your business.
Our panelists included Deborah Baldwin, the Deputy Director of the Office of Minority and Women Inclusion (OMWI) at the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA), Victor Christensen, Chief of the Minority and Woman Business and Diversity Inclusion Branch at the FDIC, Mark Hands, Supplier Diversity Program Manager, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, and Millie Irma Lara, Assistant Procurement Officer with the Department of Procurement Services, Chicago.
Each one of our representatives briefly described the function of their agencies, what they spend on contracting and in what industries those contracting opportunities lie. Then, they laid out their process for applying and some best practices to apply in securing a contract.
“The NCUA’s total, contracting dollars annually, ranges between 40 – 50 million,” says Deborah. “In 2017, $44.1 million total reportable contracting dollars reported for the year with 21 percent of total contract payments made to women-owned businesses.”
She said her office has to be very intentional to ensure they are aware of opportunities coming up for women-owned businesses because of limited funds.
“In a nutshell, we are the bank’s bank,” said Mark Hands on the role the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago plays. He further defined the Federal Reserve Bank overall’s goals as threefold: setting monetary policy, supervising and regulating banks, and ensuring payment systems are safe and sound.
The role of the FDIC is a little different, as they do have some dealings with real estate, Victor Christensen remarked. The FDIC in part supervises banks and acts as a receiver if the bank fails. However, as the financial crisis has wound down, their real estate holdings have also diminished.
Millie Lara broke down her agency’s duties into three key areas: contract administration, a certification program, and compliance.
Areas of Opportunity
Each of the agencies featured has different needs and different contracting opportunities. Below are the top industries and services with contracting opportunities for each agency. If the service you provide is not explicitly highlighted below, it doesn’t mean there aren’t contracts available. These are in general, the major areas of opportunity.
Main Areas of Contract Availabilities with NCUA
- IT services
- Contracting, training, and development/executive coaches
- Accounting and financial services
- Insurance Share Fund
Main Areas of Contract Availability with the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago
- Contractors, maintaining facilities
- Law enforcement, security (their facility is one of the “safest places in Chicago” Mark says.
- Coaching and professional development
- Some real estate opportunities in leasing, but limited.
Main Areas of Contract Availability with the FDIC
Admin and IT contracts
Facilities management, janitorial
Asset management, investigations
Doing Business with…
Each of our agency panelists went on to break down some key aspects of the process of doing business and winning a contract with each of their agencies.
Millie highlighted transparency in the procurement process for the City of Chicago. They have five types of procurement and have a buying plan updated every quarter with contracting opportunities. They also have workshops to guide you through the process which can be lengthy.
The FDIC has developed its own procedures for contracting procurement. You actually have to be invited to participate, Victor relates. The Acquisitions Services Branch of the FDIC maintains a contact list of companies; they provide company names and they send out RFPs (Request for Proposals.) And a company can be put on the contact list no matter how large or small.
Victor’s OMWI division ensures opportunities are given to Minority Women-Owned Businesses (MWOBs) by having a person with voting power in the room sitting on the evaluating panel making sure MWOBs are treated fairly.
Over at the NCUA, they identify MWOBs through market research after getting a request from the procurement office and add them to a database. They make it easy with a vendor registration form on their website that, Deborah says takes only five minutes to complete.
After registering, she suggests making direct contact with her Supplier Diversity Manager, Miguel Polanco to let him know about the services you provide and have your business on his radar.
Additionally, she discloses, if the contracting need is under $7,500 they can request only one bid as long as its determined fairly. On the real estate end, they have an Asset Management Assistance Center in Austin, Texas that does occasionally request real estate services and she said Miguel might be able to help with making a connection once you have registered.
The Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago does not advertise its bid opportunities and has no goals or quotas. However, as an internal requirement, they must include at least one minority and one Woman Owned Business (WOB) in all of their competitive bids. Mark is the direct point of contact you can reach out to if you are interested in contracting with the FRB of Chicago.
The Department of Procurement Services, City of Chicago buts bid ads in newspapers and current bid offers on their website. Current bid offerings are updated on a weekly basis at https://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/dps/provdrs/contract/svcs/current_bid_opportunities.html
You can also sign up for DPS alerts, sent every Monday, and become a listserv subscriber to receive the most recent bid opportunities (also with the twelve other agencies they work with.)
All of our panelists talked a little about forecasting opportunities, that is to say, projecting in advance what they might need to give businesses a head start. Some make public forecasting available, while others have an internal forecast helping them to determine areas out outreach.
Opportunities for Business Development
One thing about the agencies our panelist work within not as widely known perhaps, are that they offer business development in addition to contract opportunities.
In August, Victor’s agency will join with other OMWI agencies this August in San Antonio Texas for a one-day event called “Smart Contacts and Smart Contracts.” At the summit, attendees can receive often much needed technical assistance. Many who apply for contracts have issues with properly writing proposals, which can hurt a business’s chances of winning a bid.
The Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago has a Money Smart Week focusing on financial literacy for individuals. Five years ago, Mark took that idea and created a Business Smart Week to give people tools to better manage their businesses as well.
Millie spotlighted two local events put on by the City of Chicago. They have a construction summit every February with around 700 attendees, where the city departments and agencies that can help bring access to capital are connected with business owners, and a vendor fair every spring.
How to Be Competitive
Getting through the unique proposal process of each agency is only half the battle. The other half is maintaining a competitive edge. Each of our speakers pointed out ways contract seekers can improve their chances against the competition.
Not many people know who the Federal Reserve is or what it does, Mark says. Understanding what you are seeking a contract with does is key.
Proposals need to be well-done and contain all the needed information when applying to the FDIC according to Victor. Be persistent and don’t be afraid to ask to be a subcontractor, he says. Subcontractors can turn into prime contractors and they will have an inside track.
Millie asserts going to the pre-bid conferences the city hosts is important because you can not only scope out your competition but may be able to joint venture with them. You will also have an opportunity to meet in person.
Closing out the discussion, NAWRB CEO and President, Desiree Patno emphasized developing connections and relationships with local and government agencies. Once you do business with them once, they know you and will want to do business again with you. Most of these professionals are highly accessible, she said. They don’t get paid bonuses for helping you, they work on a value-basis and most genuinely want you to succeed.
Miguel Polanco, Supplier Diversity Manager, NCUA:
Mark Hands, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago