DOWN TO BUSINESS: Finding government contracting opportunities
Are you interested in competing for work in the public sector, but don't know where to start? For many small business owners the task of finding public contracting opportunities might seem too overwhelming.
How does a small business find out about contracting opportunities in the public sector? The short answer is that it depends on how much the project budget is. ORS 279 defines two main categories of procurements, with larger, formal procurements of goods and services, architect and engineering services starting at $150,000 and public improvement construction projects starting at $100,000. State law requires that agencies publish formal opportunities broadly. Whether you are interested in doing business at the State, regional, city, county or school district level, a simple way to find contracting opportunities is to conduct a web search using as the criteria the name of the jurisdiction followed by "procurement." This will take you to the public entity's procurement webpage, directing you either to "doing business with" or "contracting opportunities" with further information about their specific procurement processes. Many of the jurisdictions have explicit information about social equity contracting and steps a small business can take in order to succeed in accessing contracting opportunities. Each public entity has a different way of publishing their formal procurements. Some utilize the Oregon Procurement Information Network, ORPIN. Most state agencies and many smaller public entities publish their solicitations on ORPIN. The easiest way to register with ORPIN is to go to orpin.oregon.gov and click on Supplier Registration. Registered firms are automatically notified when their industry code (NIGP code) matches a posted solicitation. Many other public sector entities have their own bidding system, which range from off the shelf bought systems to in-house built systems. Some may publish their opportunities directly on their website. Each entity explains on their procurement web page how to register with their bidding system. In addition the majority of formal procurements are advertised in local papers, such as the Business Tribune and others.
A newer and great search engine to find public as well as private sector contracting opportunities is Oregonprocurementsearch.com or Washingtonprocurementsearch.com. It is a one-stop easy tool to find contracting opportunities ranging from $5,000 up to multi-million dollars.
So, what about the projects under $150,000 or $100,000? This range is called intermediate procurement and state law does not require publishing, though Metro posts all formal and most intermediate solicitations on ORPIN. However, state law does require a competitive process to allow fair access to contracting opportunities and the public sector is required to get at least three quotes. This means that if a public entity chooses an intermediate process, they must contact at least three or more businesses based on their policy mandate. Many jurisdictions, such as Metro, have implemented Equity Contracting Rules that require the agency to contact anywhere from one to four State certified COBID (Certification of Business Inclusion and Diversity) firms. In order to be on the public entity's radar it is crucial for the business owner to not only get COBID certified but also network. Public procurement representatives frequently attend networking events to get to know the capabilities of small businesses. The many business chambers and business associations such as Oregon Association of Minority Entrepreneurs (OAME), National Association of Minority Contractors (NAMC), Metropolitan Contractor Improvement Partnership (MCIP), the Business Diversity Institute (BDI), the Oregon Native American Chamber of Commerce (ONAC), the Asian Pacific American Chamber of Commerce (APACC), the Hispanic Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce (HMCC) and others can help small businesses to connect with the public as well as the private sector. Many of the chambers and business associations also offer business development support.
Other events such as the Metro and Multnomah County Small Business Open House are effective events to connect with government contracting staff and learn more about what project forecasts are on the horizon and how to find them.
If I could give just one recommendation to a small business in order to find public sector contracting opportunities it would be networking with the business associations. It will provide for helpful business development information as well as the contact information to regional public agencies. See you at a business association event!