Enabling minority and disadvantaged small businesses to gain access to more government contracts is a critical way for the federal government to create new jobs and boost the economy, an Obama administration official said Thursday.
Marie C. Johns, deputy administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration, was touring a Native American-owned construction firm in Lackawanna that benefited from such a program.
Johns touted the success and growth of Iroquois Bar Corp. in recent years as an example of the importance of being certified for and participating in government contracting through the SBA.
"It's so important to give small businesses the ability to grow and create jobs," she said in the shadow of the open metal warehouse where some Iroquois workers were bending metal reinforcing bars. "They're the job creators, so that should be our focus."
Johns said the Obama administration boosted government contracting with small businesses by $33 billion.
To make such contracts more attractive for businesses, she said, the federal government has tried to streamline and speed up the payment process, so that small businesses, and now even the large firms that subcontract with small businesses, can be paid within 15 days or less.
Thomas Saia, owner of Iroquois Bar, cited an instance where he was paid in just seven days.
"The faster he gets money from the federal government, the sooner he can hire his next employee," Johns said.
Iroquois specializes in concrete work, trucking, general contracting, construction services and, most recently, equipment rental to other companies. Founded in 1999 in Lackawanna by Saia, the company moved a short distance to its current 7,000-square-foot corrugated steel facility in the Lakeside Commerce Park in 2004. It employs 65 full-time workers, with its union staff rising to 85 or 90 during the summer. It owns 40 ready-mix concrete and dump trucks and 15 other heavy vehicles.
Iroquois was certified in 2007 to participate in the SBA's 8(a) business development program, designed to help "socially and economically disadvantaged entrepreneurs" participate in federal contracts. That qualified it to bid on public projects, while also obtaining training, marketing and other SBA assistance. Three years later, the company won a $3.8 million design-and-build contract from the U.S. Coast Guard to provide about 23,000 yards of embankment fill material for the Coast Guard property in Buffalo. The project included building a new utility infrastructure to support future development.
The biggest part of the project involved building a 3,800-square-foot LEED Silver-certified facility and installing an anti-terrorism and "force protection" security and chain-link fence. A public park with access to the waterfront was also created. Iroquois Bar did one-third of the work itself.
Since then, the company has grown steadily, expanding into equipment rental as a new division. It had already bought and rented out lifts and other equipment under a five-year contract involving work on the Brooklyn Bridge. It's also participating in the $400 million Norampac project in Niagara Falls, with 20 employees, and it's doing concrete reinforcement work for Canalside's canals in downtown Buffalo.
Johns also visited the SBA's Disaster Assistance Customer Service Center downtown, which handles inquiries from households and small businesses damaged in natural disasters. It is typically the center of federal government disaster aid after major storms, such as Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Isaac.