New Congress Should Focus on Federal Contracting for Women | NAWBO

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New Congress Should Focus on Federal Contracting for Women

Last week NAWBO was at the table when business leaders representing a broad spectrum of constituencies held a post-election briefing at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, to discuss the mid-term election results and how the new Congress will impact entrepreneurs. Other business leaders joining me on the panel were SBE Council President and CEO Karen Kerrigan, who organized the event; Harry Alford, president and CEO, National Black Chamber of Commerce; Allen Gutierrez, executive director, The Latino Coalition; and John Palatiello, president, Business Coalition for Fair Competition. One of the key messages we wanted to convey to Congress was that small businesses are critical to the economy and demand meaningful initiatives by policymakers—and real change that will create a more positive environment for small business. Several of the panelists noted the important contributions that small businesses make to the U.S. economy. Most of us are familiar with the SBA statistics that show small businesses represent 99.7 percent of all employer firms and have generated 65 percent of net new jobs over the past 17 years. During my formal remarks, I noted studies that show women business owners in particular are expected to create one-third of the 15.3 million new jobs anticipated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics by 2018. But other studies, I said, show that although women outpace men in starting businesses, we have a harder time finding funding, creating jobs and winning government contracting opportunities. I urged Congress and the Administration to focus on programs and legislation that create equity for women-owned firms that would aid women business owners in their efforts to grow their businesses and create sorely needed jobs. As I noted at the briefing, “Access to capital doesn’t just mean access to debt financing as we’ve been hearing so much about. It also means access to opportunity—opportunity to access capital through growth in top-line sales. And NAWBO believes that the federal contracting program for women is one of those opportunities.” While applauding the SBA’s impending implementation of the federal contracting program for women in early 2011 (after more than 10 years), I also pointed out that a key legislative focus for Congress should be the Fairness in Women-Owned Small Business Contracting Act of 2010 (S. 3399), introduced last May by Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and co-sponsored by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York). The bill would take the SBA federal contracting rule even further by (1) removing the requirement that women-owned businesses be economically disadvantaged, (2) providing parity, in that contracting officers could award a sole source contract to women-owned businesses under the same conditions that a contract can be awarded to a qualified HUBZone small business, (3) removing contract caps, and (4) calling for a review of the industry categories in which women-owned firms are underrepresented, at least every five years. Kerrigan is considering holding these types of briefings several times a year, and you can be sure that NAWBO will be at the table to represent the interests of women business owners to our congressional leaders. Remember that your advocacy efforts are critical as well. Make sure to visit NAWBO’s Legislative Action Center at www.nawbo.org and sign up for alerts of pending legislation that you want to keep an eye on at both the state and the federal levels. You can also communicate with your legislators through the Legislative Action Center. Visit your political leaders when they are back home, and take the time to educate yourself about the issues. I was especially happy to see that one of our NAWBO members from Texas actually attended the briefing last week. She was on vacation in DC when the alert went out and changed her plans so she could be in the audience. Thank you, Pamela, for taking the time to get involved! We also appreciate those of you who followed the briefing through Twitter at #smallbizbriefing. Thanks to technology, NAWBO will be offering new and different ways for you to engage in the policy making process. I have worked with small businesses for nearly two decades, and with women business owners through NAWBO for a decade. I can remember no other time more critical for the voice of small business owners to be heard in terms of what’s at stake economically today. Yet many in Congress, in spite of their efforts to help small business, don’t always understand the daily challenges of entrepreneurs and the sometimes unintended consequences of legislation. NAWBO will be working to change that by continuing the conversation with legislators and explaining the impact that pending legislation is likely to have on your businesses. And we’ll be pushing for outcomes that will give you greater opportunity to grow your businesses. In the coming weeks, for example, NAWBO will be reconnecting with Sen. Snowe to discuss strategy for moving the Fairness in Women-Owned Small Business Contracting Act of 2010 forward. In the meantime, we encourage Congress and the Administration to put politics aside and go to work now on the common elements of their small business agendas—like the Fairness in Women-Owned Small Business Contracting Act of 2010, which has bipartisan sponsorship from Sens. Snowe and Gillibrand. —Kelly Scanlon, NAWBO National Chair