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Columnist
Government market an option for small businesses
By Jim Kendall | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 12/17/2009 12:00 AM

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If you ask Marc Violante about opportunities for small businesses in the government sector, grab your pencil and paper, and be prepared to take notes.

There are, Violante says, 85,000 government entities that purchase what is an astonishing array of goods and services. Although he doesn't name them all, Violante is a valuable source of resources.

"Their needs often exceed what staff can support," Violante begins. "Housing authorities. Airport authorities. Park districts. Forest preserves. Schools. Pace. Metra. Snowplow blades. Liquid salt. Contractors to plow postal service lots."

Violante is center director for the Illinois Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) at the College of Lake County in Grayslake. His job is to connect small businesses with government buyers.

A key part of the PTAC connection process, which is free, is Illinois Power Search, software that takes your keywords and phrases, searches 400 federal and state procurement databases and sends a daily e-mail directly to your computer when there is a potential match.

That's cool, but that's also just the beginning. You'll have work to do.

"The government doesn't always speak the same language in terms of identifying product," explains Mark Deutsch, president of AmCraft Manufacturing, Inc., an Elk Grove Village producer of sewn and welded industrial fabrics. "The nomenclature is different than in the private sector. You have to be prepared to spend some time (on the government process), working through the bids. You don't always know what they're asking."

Violante's experience can help. Even so, "I have a file that's one-quarter of an inch when we bid a $100,000 private sector job," says Loretta Molter. "In the public sector, that same file is three inches."

Molter is president of Molter Corp., a Tinley Park masonry contractor with capabilities that include restoration, firestopping, and gunite and shotcrete repairs.

Molter, part of the PTAC process for more than 20 years, connected with Violante when the PTAC at Moraine Valley Community College lost its funding.

Government projects have helped ease the effects of the recession on Molter Corp. "A lot of (private) projects have been put on hold," Molter says, "but government still needs work done."

At AmCraft, government purchases account for 25 percent of sales. One of the products AmCraft sells to Uncle Sam is a high-temperature fabric shield used to wrap hot machine gun barrels after they have been fired. Another is an equipment bag that "I don't know exactly what is put in it," Deutsch says.

As helpful as the PTAC process can be, results don't necessarily come quickly. "You have to be committed" to the effort," Deutsch says. "Don't expect much success in the first year or two."

Or, put another way, start soon. There are 10 PTACs in Illinois; five in the Chicago area. You can turn up the list at aptac-us.org.

• Questions, comments to Jim Kendall, JKendall@ 121MarketingResources.com

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