Javier Palomarez, president and CEO of the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (USHCC). (Photo by USHCC)

Back in December, Javier Palomarez, president and CEO of the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (USHCC) complimented U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and his colleagues at the Department of Treasury for their role in overachieving the agency’ goals and for working with the USHCC members to create new opportunities for Latino owned businesses.

Palomarez praised Geithner and his staff for surpassing their yearly small business contracting goals for 2011. This agency set the bar high in FY 2011 for other federal agencies by exceeding its overall government contracting goal and each of its four sub-goals for small businesses. According to the report, around 34 percent of its $2.2 billion contracting budget supported small businesses – a record achievement.

What does this mean for those small businesses, especially for Latino business owners? In first place, it provides additional opportunities for inclusion into federal and state contracts. The trick is how to get into the game.

According to the Small Business Administration (SBA) Office of Government Contracting (GC), the office works to make possible participation of small, disadvantaged, and woman-owned businesses in federal government contract and subcontract awards.

Each year, the federal government and its agencies determine an overall goal to contract small businesses –approximate 23 percent of all federal contracts– to provide them with goods and services. Small businesses located in economically distressed areas or owned by veterans, women, and minorities might become eligible to receive sub-contracts working with larger or established federal providers. The administration encourages competition so that they get the best service or goods for their buck.

A well organized Getting Started  section of the SBA website guides you through the process of registering your firm as a “small business” and helping you define if your firm qualifies for such definition.  Working with the Government then provides you with information about all the regulations to keep in mind if you decide to bid for a contract, such as business qualifications, reporting contract activities and taking advantage of your “small business” condition. Online and in-person support is offered along the life of the bid and the contract –if you were to be the winning bidder–, through Local SBA Offices and Procurement Center Representatives.

Although not available in all regions and states, some heavily Latino populated areas in the country are working with bilingual Business Development Officers–English and Spanish– who provide information for current or prospective Latino business owners wanting to contract with the federal government, trying to improve their business opportunities through some sort of financial assistance, or simply for those would like to start their own business but do not know where to start. You can find if your region has bilingual Business Development Officers by consulting the Association of Small Business Development Centers and their directory.

Business Development Officers work with clients through local counseling and mentoring programs offered by the SBA. You can find a variety of programs and resource partners located around the country:

  • Find a Local SBA Office: Local offices are responsible for providing tools to improve and grow small businesses. SBA’s District Offices also oversee the delivery of SBA’s programs throughout the states.
  • Small Business Development Centers: Planning to start a new business as well as getting funding can be a daunting task and the Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs) create partnerships primarily between the government and colleges/universities to provide educational services for small business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs. I started my business many years ago through this type of partnership and was awarded a $90,000 loan.
  • SCORE : Is a nonprofit association that gathers volunteer business counselors throughout the U.S. They can be current or retired business owners and professionals who are trained to serve as counselors advisors and mentors for aspiring entrepreneurs and business owners. Their services are offered for free, as a community service, and you can consult with them online or in person at your local library or other community centers– where available.
  • Women’s Business Centers: Located in different states, Women’s Business Centers (WBCs) represent a national network of nearly 100 educational centers designed to assist women start and grow small businesses. If you are Latina and a female business owner, you might be eligible under both qualifications but your business needs to be registered for Government Contracting.
  • Veterans Business Outreach Centers: This program is designed to provide training, counseling and mentoring, and referrals for eligible veterans owning or considering starting a small business. Sixteen organizations participate in this cooperative agreement and serve as Veterans Business Outreach Centers (VBOC).

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