Offutt reaches out to small businesses about contracting

  • Published
  • By Kristen Allen, 55th Wing Public Affairs

Construction began in earnest this year on Offutt Air Force Base to demolish buildings destroyed by the 2019 flood and start the rebuilding process, which is planned to occur in stages over the next few years. The flood projects may provide more contracting jobs aside from ones that already exist on base.

Larry Mercier, 55th Wing small business professional, hopes to make small business owners aware of these opportunities and help them get started with the process of entering government contracting.

“The philosophy that we follow here at the 55th Wing is small business first, whenever possible,” said Mercier. “We’re doing in excess of $220-240 million with small business. It’s almost half of what we do in any given year. Small business makes a big contribution to Offutt Air Force Base and the 55th Wing mission. We wouldn’t be able to do what we do without them.“

His main responsibilities as a small business specialist are to make sure the 55th Wing mission is executed, to include U.S. Strategic Command, 557th Weather Wing and all mission partners, and support and foster growth within the small business community.

“Small business is where the majority of innovation comes from,” Mercier said. “They make up anywhere between 42-48% of the U.S. gross domestic product. They create two of every three new jobs in the U.S.”

Part of Mercier’s job is to help educate the community to make sure they’re aware of available opportunities and that the Department of Defense and Small Business Administration have set up a lot of programs to help them go through the contracting process.

“Once you get through that process once or twice, it becomes second nature,” said Mercier. “The 55th Contracting Squadron and this wing, more than any I’ve been to, are supportive from the top down as far as small business goes. They want to support the community. At Offutt, we have some areas that we’re surprised we’re not getting more competition.”

To help increase competition, he’s been trying to expand his outreach area by attending virtual and in-person events that target small business owners. Earlier this summer, he was invited to speak at an event organized by the Nebraska Business Development Center’s Procurement Technical Assistance Center in Norfolk.

“PTACs assist businesses in navigating and understanding the government market,” said Meghann Buresh, NBDC PTAC consultant. “There are a lot of things that can be very overwhelming throughout the process, whether it’s registration, certifications, market research, different documents and forms needed for marketing – those are all things we help businesses with.”

Buresh said she was excited that they had more attendees than projected, as interactions like this can be integral to the success of small businesses in the contracting world.

“Events like this allow for some connections to happen, whether it’s with me or my colleagues or clients that I’m helping,” said Buresh. “We’re over two hours from the base, so bringing Larry here and having someone for clients and businesses to meet and talk to and hear stories and share examples from just builds on networking. Relationship building is the goal of all these events.”

Mercier said one of the challenges he faces is small business owners sometimes think doing business with the government is intimidating.

“Don’t get overwhelmed and don’t let somebody tell you it’s too much work and not worth it. It’s not as difficult as people make it out to be,” he said. “If you’ve had a bad experience, give it a second chance. Sometimes it works out great and sometimes there are hiccups, but it’s a worthwhile endeavor. We want you to be part of the team. We will help you get there.”