Could the Government pay you?

Flip the script with a government contract

Cheryl Stritzel McCarthy

Need another revenue stream? Maybe a government contract would be right for your business.

True, you need to learn to speak government contracting, but the payoff can be worth it. Help and instruction are available, most of it free.

Cara Buckingham’s job is to help businesses in Whatcom County understand and compete for government contracts from federal, state and local governments. Cara, an APEX Accelerator Advisor based out of Economic Alliance Snohomish County, also serves businesses in Skagit, Snohomish, Island and San Juan counties alongside another adviser.

With more federal contracting work coming for our border crossings, the timing is apropos.

Quick background

You may know Washington APEX Accelerator from its former name, Procurement Technical Assistance Centers, or PTAC. The name changed in 2023. The outfit was created by Congress in 1985 to expand the number of businesses capable of participating in government contracts. APEX Accelerators exist in almost every state. The Washington APEX Accelerator is statewide, with 17 people on the team.

What’s on offer?

APEX offers one-to-one bid advising, bid reviews, workshops on topics such as steps leading to a state contract, networking and registration help. As its website (washingtonapex.org) says, APEX helps businesses position themselves to win contracts at any level of government.

Though APEX helps any size of business, most of its clients are small firms. APEX advises all types of business, from environmental consulting to landscape design, catering and more, Cara said. The top three Whatcom County industries participating in government contracting are construction, manufacturing and professional, scientific and
technical services.

“Government contracting is a language unto itself, and business owners and their teams need to dedicate the time needed to learn,” Cara said.

To show the scale of opportunity, Washington clients win an average of $400 million annually, with $36.2 million of that going to Whatcom County businesses.

By working with clients, APEX also helps government agencies, which need a diverse supplier base, Cara said.

How to win

Businesses need to be bid ready, Cara said. That means researching which agencies are buying what they’re selling and then registering with those agencies. Businesses find opportunities, assess whether their capabilities match the work and submit a responsible and responsive bid.

What does that mean exactly?

“Responding with the basics the agency requires,” Cara said.

That could be as simple as using the typeface specified and not leaving out any requested documents.

“If it’s specified in the bid proposal, and if you don’t meet that, it’s a reason to throw out your bid,” Cara said.

An example is a business that was the low bidder, but in the government’s bid packet, there was a page intentionally left blank, and the business removed that page from its proposal. 

“It was supposed to stay in,” Cara said. “The bid was thrown out. Especially with newer contractors, we will walk through their proposal. We offer training on that.”

New businesses and those that are successful in the private sector but inexperienced with government contracting must learn how government contracting operates, Cara said.

“There are so many agencies! Education, including K through 12 and higher ed, it’s all government contracting. Where to find the information? It’s not centralized. If you just Google where to start, you could end up down a rabbit hole.”

APEX helps businesses find relevant market research and register as a vendor.

Be prepared for government regulations

“There’s a lot of paperwork at times,” Cara said. “But if a business is
willing to learn and keep at it, they can be successful.”

What advice would Cara give Whatcom County businesses about interacting with APEX Accelerators?

“They can just sign up.”

That part, it seems, is simple.

[Editor’s Note: this story has several sidebars that are available in our online magazine! Click here and flip to pages 17-21 to read the rest of Cheryl’s article!]