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SBA Tops Off Small Business Week with Outreach to Women Contractors

Officials say set-asides are more plentiful under expanded industry categories.

With Small Business Administrator Maria Contreras-Sweet inexplicably detained, her deputy-designate stepped up on Monday to tell an audience of women-owned small business contractors that they are “central to what the SBA and the Obama administration are trying to do” to promote a 21st century economy built on diversity and innovation.

Counselor to the Administrator Douglas Kramer, in his first public appearance as he awaits Senate confirmation, said that with the worst of the 2009 recession now over, “the environment is ripe and ready” for women business owners “who often are reluctant to go in and ask for loans when men will do so even when they’re not qualified.”

Kramer hailed Friday’s report of national gains of 223,000 new jobs while speaking at SBA headquarters at the ChallengeHER conference on the Women-Owned Small Business Federal Contract Program co-sponsored by the SBA, American Express OPEN and Women Impacting Public Policy. He also praised the administration’s “very successful” National Small Business Week, which ended Friday.

Moving across the country, his agency coordinated a Monday event in Miami focused on immigration; a Tuesday event in Los Angeles centered on trade; a Wednesday gathering in San Antonio that brought in government lenders who provide small businesses with capital; a Thursday event in New York City bringing together veteran investors and Millennial-generation entrepreneurs; and Friday’s National Small Business Awards presentation at the White House.

Also marking the week on Tuesday was the Treasury Department’s Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization, which convened agency procurement officers with private-sector representatives in a panel discussion on small business federal contracting at the main building.

The women-owned business employees received advice on making themselves known to federal contracting officers from Sean Crean, director of SBA’s Office of Government Contracting. “When I came in last November, I had no thoughts about women-owned businesses,” he said. Then he read a Government Accountability Office report showing that relatively few women-owned business were landing contracts despite a program in existence since 2000.

“Set-asides are nothing more than leveling the playing field,” Crean said, noting that the number of North American Industry Classification System codes for which women-owned contractors are eligible grew from four to 83 beginning in February 2011. “The categories are limited because it’s a constitutional issue—you can’t make a special category for a particular gender,” he said, so the criteria for eligibility for set-asides is industries in which women-owned businesses have previously not been competitive.

Crean noted that women-owned businesses also have new opportunities to qualify for sole-source contracts, and recent versions of the National Defense Authorization Act as of May 2013 lifted the cap on the dollar value of contracts on which women-owned businesses can bid on under the set-aside program. Though companies may “self-certify” to qualify as women-owned small businesses, he added, contracting officers find it easier to consider them for awards if the companies invest in a third-party certification.

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