NORFOLK, Va. – Although she probably won’t, Norfolk District Deputy for Small Business Programs Cherie Kunze could sit back and enjoy some well-deserved downtime; after all, this is the third consecutive year Norfolk District met and surpassed district goals for awards to small businesses.
Small business, for U.S. Army Corps of Engineers purposes, is a term for companies operated by various socioeconomic groups. These groups include the following: Women Owned Small Businesses, Service Disabled Owned Small Business, Small Disadvantaged Business, and Historically Underutilized Small Business (HUBZONE).
A mandatory federal government operation since1953, the small business program aims to provide these firms maximum practical opportunity to participate in Norfolk District acquisitions through contracts or subcontracts. By facilitating a roadmap, USACE ensures a broad base of capable small business firms supporting the mission and strengthening economic development.
Small business operations in 2020
The district’s agent for all small-business workings, Kunze assisted the District, who recently earned the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers 100 Million Dollar Club designation for having awarded over $100 million dollars to small businesses in fiscal 2020. The recognition is no small feat, given that last year the projected workload appeared more suitable for large companies.
“We couldn’t do what we do without our large businesses and small businesses,” she said. “So, it’s about finding the balance. Large contractors always need good subcontractors to assist them in meeting their subcontracting plan goals. We are always looking for good small businesses, as well.”
And, like many operations throughout the country, Kunze had to overcome the difficulties of doing business during the COVID-19 pandemic.
As of last year, Kunze met approximately 200 contractors since taking on the program in 2017. This year, she estimates having met with 40 firms.
“Before COVID, we were able to meet with many more people during our outreach events: while waiting in line, walking down the hall, we were able to trade business cards and interact with more firms in a social and relaxed style.
“This year, we have relied upon virtual events using the resources we had available – teleconferencing, video chats and phone conversations.”
Despite the challenges, the district met and surpassed their goals with 17 first-time awards to new contractors.
According to Liz Mudd, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Office of Small Business Programs director, 99.9% of firms that impact the U.S. economy are small businesses. And from 2000 to 2019, small business created 10.5 net million new jobs, whereas large business created 5.6 million.
“The role of small business impacts us all on such a large degree; meaning, yes, they are directly affecting the regional economy, but they’re also aiding nationally,” Mudd said. “And its programs at the district-level that had to be so creative [during COVID] in reaching businesses, which were an overwhelming success.”
For fiscal 2020, Norfolk District awarded 496 actions totaling more than $335 million. These stats also helped her to also attain an honorable mention for USACE Small Business Professional of the Year, as well as the USACE Top Ten District & Centers: Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business Award.
Achievements for small business in 2019
Last year, the district’s small business exceeded its goal by nearly 10%; small-disadvantaged business 13%; service-disabled veteran-owned business was more than 2% greater; and women-owned small business and HUBZone more than tripled their goals.
In fiscal 2019, Norfolk District awarded a total of 234 contracts valued at $213 million, with first-time contractors accounting for 11 of those.
Now, as 2020 closes out, Kunze is looking at projections for next year.
Keeping momentum through 2021
“Our goals for fiscal 2021 are being developed now,” said Kunze. But she is already on stride to obtain at least 10 first-time awardees, “We’re already at two for this fiscal year.”
Kunze offers pointers for small businesses interested in working with the Corps:
Kunze states that if contractors don’t get an award with their first submittal, they should keep trying, as sometimes it may take a year or two. Familiarity with the program and to the USACE may increase their chances on future bids.
“We do our market research and analyze the results, to ensure that we’re using government dollars with the best acquisition strategy to ensure an award to the right contractor, for the right job at the right time.”