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Lutgert College of Business in the News

Dan Telep of the SBDC staff is interviewed in this story from the Fort Myers News-Press of January 10, 2010.

January 10, 2010

Small businesses follow big government dollars

Local companies go after contracts


Selling to a government agency isn't a cinch; however, the lingering downturn has more small businesses taking the plunge.

"The big corporations are pretty tight about spending money right now, but the government seems to spend money like crazy," said Naples business owner Scott Sharon. "All I'm doing is following the dollars."

Sharon, a partner in Vertigo Group USA, is getting advice at the Procurement Technical Assistance Center at FGCU on how to market the company's digital sign systems and related services to government agencies.

Rosa Segura cleans up some thread while operating an automatic embroidery machine Thursday at the Matteo Graphics production facility on Hancock Parkway in Cape Coral. The company has contracts to embroider emblems on uniform shirts for county and municipal workers in Lee and Charlotte counties. (Terry Allen Williams/

Another way to get acquainted with government contracting is through the region's often-repeated series of workshops. These got under way Friday at FGCU's Small Business Development Center, with three more workshops scheduled over the next two weeks. Collectively, these provide on overview on securing contracts with federal, state and local agencies.

And the U.S. Small Business Administration is getting involved, sponsoring a government contracting webinar on Tuesday.

Sharon's right about the money, said Dan Telep Jr., PTAC procurement specialist with the Small Business Development Center at FGCU.

The opportunities are huge, with an overall federal budget that tops $3.4 trillion. Florida's budget alone surpasses $60 billion. Altogether, agencies and departments in the state's 67 counties will award about $1 billion in contracts this year.

In the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 19 Telep clients won more than $85 million in government contracts. That includes Naples-based Kraft Construction's $53.1 million contract to build a new Veterans clinic in Cape Coral.

That big award is unusual for this area, Telep said, then added another client in 2008 scored a $50 million contract with a government agency for hand-held radios.

More often, Telep said, a local business acquires a number of small government contracts that can add up to $1 million or more in annual sales.

That's often because small businesses "can't get banks to loan them the money, short-term, they need to fulfill the contracts," Telep said. Finding the money to post an insurance bond also can be a problem.

Winning a government contract takes work, Telep stressed. A company needs to register with the appropriate government agencies, and update those registrations every 12 months.

Kim Lyons does that for Merchant Source, her Fort Myers-based business providing credit card equipment, supplies and services. "Our biggest client is the state of Iowa," Lyons said. She landed her first government contract less than two years after registering on the appropriate vendor database.

Little things, like forgetting to sign your proposal for a job, however, can disqualify a company's bid. "The government is not going to call you and say you forgot," Telep said.

And, it's crucial to list the qualifications and certifications the agency is seeking, such as having a licensed general contractor on your team for a construction job.

Toby Vetrano of Cape Coral-based Rockland Laundry Supply has a steady clientele that's predominantly from the government. He sells work uniforms, hospital scrubs, bedding and more to customers including Veterans Administration hospitals, state prisons and state-owned veterans' nursing homes.

Vetrano said his business is "definitely more sheltered from the recession than businesses that aren't selling to the federal government," and encourages people to try PTAC workshops and counseling.

Said Telep: "I give them tips to get their proposals in the door."

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