Detroit's small businesses seeking government contracts turn to Wayne State's Procurement Technical Assistance Center for help

Many small business owners dream of landing lucrative government contracts don't know where to start or even if they are eligible. When they don't know what do, they can turn to Wayne State's Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) for free help.

"We are about connecting small businesses to the buyer at the government agency," says Michael Kelly, associate director of Executive and Professional Development in Educational Outreach, which oversees PTAC. "It's not easy (for companies). You have to be registered and show proof of work. The government isn't going to say 'Oh you've never done government work before; build this nuclear arsenal for us.'"

Swint CEO Cherri Harris and one of her trucks

There are 10 PTAC regions around the state, with Wayne State's serving Wayne County and the city of Detroit. PTACs are grant-funded by the Defense Logistics Agency, Michigan Economic Development Corp. and local partners, with the goal of helping small businesses obtain federal, state and local government contracts that support economic development in Michigan, particularly in the defense industry.

In 2018-19, Wayne State's PTAC helped 107 clients and provided more than 350 hours of one-on-one counseling. The team offered 24 training and outreach events for clients, including Small Business Industry Day for construction- and related firms. The staff presented at the Arsenal of Innovation workshop sponsored by U. S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence and participated in MDOT's 39th Annual Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Conference.

Each event was a chance for matchmaking and finding new bid opportunities. PTAC manager Abby Cheatham says networking with resource partners is key so she and Kelly are aware of available contracts and can push information to PTAC clients in the right fields.

Pursuing a government contract is a four-step process, Kelly says. Clients first participate in training courses focused on the contracting process, proposal writing and market research. PTAC next helps businesses register as vendors with the federal and state governments and ensures they have the certifications required for the contract they seek.

The last step is bid matching, during which Cheatham and Kelly assist clients in finding contracts that suit their skills.

"We set up a profile for each client that scans government websites and emails them proposals that are like the work they do," says Kelly. "They can find a proposal in this big stack and come to us and say 'we want to do this' and we can sit down and help them.

"I always use this as an example," says Kelly. "There's a guy who's been a painter for 30 years. He wants to grow and make his business bigger. The government hires painters. He doesn't know anything about how to get those jobs because all he knows is painting. We help with the technical aspects, what certification do you need, where do you need to find agencies that buys house painting services. The government buys everything, from toilet paper to engineering services."

Cherri Harris, CEO of Detroit-based trucking company Swint Logistics Group, says she is grateful for the services PTAC provides. Since working with PTAC, Harris' company has received opportunities to contract with government organizations such as MDOT and has seen a marked increase in profits.

Swint Logistics was named a "PTAC Best Small Business" honoree this year by Michigan Celebrates Small Business. Harris says that being on stage with other award winners such as those named to the "Michigan 50 Companies to Watch" roll provided ample networking opportunities.

She said the proposal writing classes in which she was previously a student taught her valuable skills that she now passes on to others as a teacher on that very topic, leading a class once a year at WSU.

Harris says the biggest contract PTAC helped her go after was a job doing work for FEMA in Puerto Rico. While Harris says the FEMA contract was pulled at the last minute, she says the encouragement and help PTAC gave her along the way in securing the contract was huge.

"Just to imagine you can do business in the Carribbean," she says. "Just a small girl from the east side of Detroit. That right there was my greatest experience with PTAC.

"They are an invaluable resource that I use constantly," says Harris. "Anytime I want to go after a contract my first contact is Michael Kelly and Abby Cheatham. I'm so thankful for that team. They are like a family to me."

Businesses interested in learning more about PTAC can email or call 313-577-4665.

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