Selling to the government: Program offers help

Kathryn Lobdell, a procurement counselor with the Colorado Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC), offers a range of free services to Western Colorado businesses that want to sell products and services to the government. (Business Times photo by Phil Castle)

Phil Castle, The Business Times

As if a $20 billion market isn’t tempting enough for business owners and managers looking for new customers for their products and services, how about a $500 billion market?

The first number is the total dollar volume of state government contracts awarded each year in Colorado. The second number is the staggering dollar volume of goods and services purchased annually that makes the United States government the biggest customer in the world.

“That’s a large amount of money no matter what business or industry you’re in,” says Kenneth Knapp, executive director of the Colorado Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC).

The center offers a wide range of free services to educate and assist businesses interesting in tapping those markets and selling goods and services to government buyers.

 “There’s a huge opportunity, and they need to find out what that opportunity is,” Knapp says.

In the first two full years of its operation in Colorado, PTAC has put up a big numbers of its own. Businesses working with the center and its programs earned a total of almost $1.1 billion in government contracts during that span and created or retained nearly 21,000 jobs in the process.

Kathryn Lobdell, a procurement counselor with PTAC who works out of an office at the Business Incubator Center in Grand Junction, says she’s worked with nearly 400 clients in Western Colorado over the past year through outreach events, workshops individual counseling and other means. Almost every business has the potential to become a government supplier, Lobdell says. “It can be just about anything. The government really does buy just about anything.”

The Procurement Technical Assistance Program was established in 1985 and since has grown into a nationwide network of more than 300 offices.

In Colorado, PTAC was formed in late 2009 as a nonprofit corporation with federal and state funding as well as business donations and in-kind support. PTAC operates offices in Colorado Springs, Denver and Grand Junction and employs three full-time and two part-time counselors who cover the state.

Kenneth Knapp

In one sense, PTAC serves as a translator, Knapp says, in encouraging better communication between businesses selling goods and services and the myriad government agencies at the local, state and federal levels buying those goods and services. “We try to help them communicate with each other.”

PTAC doesn’t recruit businesses to sell to the government, Knapp stresses, but rather works with businesses owners and managers interested in selling to the government. “We’re here to help out.”

While business owners and managers are good at running their operations and familiar with their industries, they might be unfamiliar with how to sell to the government or even start the process, Knapp says. And the prospect of regulations and paperwork can be daunting.

That process begins by identifying government agencies that purchase the products or services a given business provides. The results aren’t always intuitive, Knapp says. While one agency might seem like a logical choice, a far different agency actually could be buying more of a product or service.

PTAC uses computer software to match the products and services a business provides with government requests for bids and sends e-mails to clients when those opportunities arise, Knapp says. PTAC also helps match prime government contractors with businesses that could serve as subcontractors. “We pass on the word and help them find each other.”

In those instances, PTAC can serve as a lead generator for businesses, he says.

PTAC offers additional assistance through the government procurement process in reviewing the proposals businesses prepare for potential contracts, Knapp says. “We know what governments are looking for.”

And when businesses win those contracts, PTAC can review the contracts to help businesses meet the terms and conditions.

PTAC counselors bring to their jobs experience in government contracting. Knapp and Lobdell both served lengthy careers in the Air Force and were involved in logistics and contract management.

Counselors also belong to the National Association of Procurement Technical Assistance Centers and receive ongoing training to keep up with changes in government contracting and regulations.

In addition to counseling individual businesses, PTAC offers free outreach events and conducts workshops and courses on topics related to government procurement processes.

During its first two full years in operation in Colorado, PTAC conducted a total of nearly 5,500 initial and followup counseling sessions and joined in 186 outreach events.

The organization is currently working with almost 3,000 active clients, and that client base grows by about 75 businesses a month, Knapp says.

The return on the investment in PTAC and its services has been substantial in terms of the government contract dollars clients have earned, Knapp says. Every dollar invested in PTAC has resulted in nearly $1,700 in contract awards.

Lobdell says she’s worked with a range of businesses in Western Colorado — everything from construction contractors to specialized scientific businesses to consulting firms. “It’s a huge variety of businesses.”

Of course, some business owners and managers remain uninterested in selling to the government. And others aren’t yet ready to take that step.

But for those who are interested in developing new customers and revenue streams, government agencies can offer new and potentially large markets, Knapp says. Think $20 billion in state contracting and $500 billion in federal contracting each year.

And PTAC offers help, Lobdell adds. “We need everyone to be aware of the resources that are available.”