ANCHORAGE - Entrepreneur Sharon Athas Cote sees a federal procurement program as a major building block for small firms owned by women like her who are fighting for lucrative government contracts.
Athas Cote, however, isn't waiting for the program to improve her chances of securing federal contracts. Full implementation of the program has been delayed for more than four years, and the Small Business Administration has yet to set a target date for when it will come online.
Athas Cote has owned and operated SBH Services since 2000. The Anchorage-based business provides trucking and construction contracting services to commercial and residential customers.
As a woman-owned small business, SBH Services is eligible for the SBA's women's procurement program. A small business qualifies if at least 51 percent of it is owned by women and the daily operations of the business are managed by one or more women.
The program was established by an amendment to the Small Business Act in December 2000. It currently allows federal agencies to give bidding preference to a women-owned small business when the bid is one of at least two considered to be the best value. Once the program is fully implemented, federal agencies will have the authority to restrict the bidding on some of their contracts to only women-owned small businesses.
The women's procurement program is one of several ways the SBA is pursuing to meet the federal government's annual goal of awarding 5 percent of federal contracting dollars to women-owned businesses, said Frank Lalumiere, deputy associate deputy administrator of the SBA's Office of Government Contracting and Business Development. Lalumiere's comments came while speaking at the Small Business Networking Breakfast in Anchorage on earlier this month.
Since the goal was established in 1994, it has never been met.
Some 2.98 percent of the federal contracting dollars went to women-owned small businesses in fiscal year 2003, compared with 2.9 percent in fiscal year 2002 and 2.49 percent in fiscal year 2001.
"I want to see women-owned small businesses get up to that and exceed the 5 percent goal," Lalumiere said. "It's a goal the government has an interest in - (as does) the nation - to do this. Sometimes conversations get hung up on what decimal point you get to."
Women-owned small businesses make up about 30 percent of private businesses nationwide. In Alaska, nearly 22,000 women-owned businesses account for 35 percent of private businesses in the state, according to the Center for Women's Business Research.
The numbers tell the story. Women-owned businesses are not getting anywhere near their proportionate share of federal contracting dollars, said Margot Dorfman, chief executive officer of the U.S. Women's Chamber of Commerce.
Even though many of the 6.7 million women-owned small businesses in the United States do not offer products and services contracted by the federal government, there are enough women-owned small businesses capable of carrying out the 5 percent goal, Dorfman said.
"We think it should be raised to 10 percent," she said. "There's no reason it can't be done to 10 percent."