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Mastering art of bidding for state money

By , - Last modified: March 1, 2011 at 11:24 AM

Consultants help companies win lucrative public contracts

As the anemic economy slows consumer spending, more small- and medium-sized companies are hoping to do business with the federal, state and local government. The agencies have an enormous appetite for a variety of goods and services, and thanks to taxpayers, the government also has cash to pay for their purchases.

But there are three basic challenges to overcome when doing business with this dream customer: qualifying to become a government supplier, finding out about specific opportunities, and getting in touch with an official that can actually close a deal.

“The state government sets aside 25 percent of its contracts for small businesses, but many business owners have trouble finding out about the opportunities that are there for them,” said Debbie Gideon, manager of the state Treasury’s Office of Supplier Diversity, who addressed business owners at a New Jersey Chamber of Commerce meeting in May.

Consultants like Henry Savelli help business owners identify, register and bid for projects. He served as assistant director of the state Treasury’s Division of Purchase and Property before launching Henry Savelli & Associates, in Trenton.

“There’s really no single central site for all government contracts,” Savelli said. “Many opportunities are never even publicly advertised, although a good consultant can identify the deals and help you through the registration process.”

The infusion of federal stimulus money means jobs are being bid out for road and bridge construction in New Jersey, Savelli said. But the state also is looking for furniture, computer services and myriad other commercial products.

“The good thing is that you know you’ll get paid,” Savelli said. “My business has jumped in this recession. But most small businesses are not used to the formal registration and bidding that’s involved in government work.”

Another consulting firm, BH Sky Associates LLC, in the Mercerville section of Hamilton, also helps financial, janitorial, construction and other businesses identify, secure, negotiate and manage government contracts.

“We can help a firm to get a [General Services Administration] schedule contract,” said BH Sky founder Michelle Hermelee, referring to the federal agency that prescreens vendors that supply goods to federal agencies, and also constructs, manages and leases the government’s hundreds of buildings all over America.

“When a company gets a GSA contract, the federal government can place orders with the firm for up to 20 years without going through a public bidding contract,” Hermelee said.

Supti Putatunda, an entrepreneur from the Marlton section of Evesham, said she “had no idea how to get government work” until she signed up with BH Sky.

“Since 2004, I was looking for government work, but didn’t have the time to dig through the details,” said Putatunda, co-founder of Eastmed Enterprises Inc., a medical supplies manufacturer and distributor. “The problem is that each government department has its own system. So you may get in one system, but when you try to market to another agency, you’ve got to start the process all over again.”

After contracting with Hermelee’s firm in 2008, Eastmed has snared two U.S. Army contracts and also supplies a state medical school in Wisconsin, Putatunda said.

“Michelle finds the opportunities, forwards them to me and then helps me fill out the paperwork,” Putatunda said. “The new business is great, but I’m even happier because now I’m in multiple systems, so I have more exposure to opportunities.”

E-mail to mdaks@njbiz.com

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