The government buys everything - office furniture, military equipment, even Shetland sheepdogs - and small businesses can get a slice of the pie, according to Arlene Vogel, program director for the Connecticut Procurement Technical Assistance Program in New London, Conn.
She added that the government has certain purchasing goals - for example, 23 percent of contracts go to small businesses, 3 percent to disabled service veterans and 5 percent to women-owned firms.
Vogel directed her message to all small businesses at the Eastec Advanced Productivity Exposition, hosted May 20-23 by the Society of Manufacturing Engineers, but the message applies to many plastics firms.
``We try and find government work for any business interested in doing it, or we work with a client already doing business and see if we can help,'' Vogel said. The agency serves 700 clients that have gained $67 million in government business during the past six months. Overall, since 1994, Connecticut clients have earned more than $340 million in government contracts, she said.
Each of the New England states has a PTAP. In Massachusetts, Peter Cokotis, interim program director, said the Amherst, Mass.-based unit has 1,300 clients and is among the newest chapters, having been formed in 2000.
Vogel said PTAP is co-funded by the Defense Department along with various state economic agencies. The program was established by Congress in 1985 and has grown to 90 state and regional programs.
``Government work isn't easy. You have to learn the ropes. You have to market. ... And you have to be patient and persistent,'' Vogel said.
The Connecticut PTAP has a director and seven procurement counselors. They offer free help to Connecticut businesses. A confidentiality agreement is signed and then a counselor reviews the company's goals and evaluates opportunities.
Most government work, she said, is accessed through the Internet, so PTAP works on developing a search profile. It details government codes and keys that apply to the business and search the Internet for bids. It also can review pricing.
Vogel said PTAP also explains bidding, the process and will help with negotiations, if needed. Once the contract is won, PTAP also works with the company to make sure the contract performance meets government guidelines.
PTAP offers monthly seminars around the state for a $15 fee. One such seminar, according to Vogel, allowed companies to meet government buyers in 10-minute, face-to-face meetings.