The U.S. government recently expanded a program that gives rural small businesses more access to federal contracts.
The Historically Underutilized Business Zones program, or HUBZone program, is a national program that helps small businesses gain preferential access to federal contracts due to limited economic development in rural communities. It is administered by the U.S. Small Business Administration, or SBA.
The program’s recent expansion in Vermont is due to a change in federal regulation.
The SBA changed its regulations to implement certain sections of the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2016. Among other things, these sections expanded the definition of “base closure area” under the HUBZone program. As a result, Addison, Bennington, Orange, Rutland, Windsor and Windham counties have been designated as HUBZone areas due to the 2011 closures of Courcelle Brothers U.S. Army Reserve Command in Rutland and the Chester Memorial Army Reserve Center in Chester.
“I think it could be very beneficial,” said Chris Herriman, economic development specialist with the SBA’s Vermont district office. “We already have companies which are already doing government contracting or would like to do government contracting.”
Herriman said that, in some cases, HUBZone-certified companies could potentially be the only ones bidding on contracts, making it attractive from a competition standpoint.
Robin Miller, director of the Vermont Procurement Technical Assistance Center, or VT PTAC, said these opportunities will also include subcontractors, not just prime contractors.
Miller added that a range of Vermont businesses have benefitted from the program before, from electrical companies to machine shops and roofing contractors. Orleans and Essex counties were already HUBZone areas.
The U.S. government has a goal of awarding 3 percent of all federal prime contract dollars to HUBZone-certified businesses. HUBZone businesses are also eligible to receive a 10 percent price evaluation preference in full and open competition procurements.
Herriman said interested companies should first visit www.sba.gov/hubzone to see if they qualify.
The six Vermont counties that newly qualified as a HUBZone will remain qualified until the results of the 2020 decennial census are published, Herriman explained. Typically, that is six to 18 months after year-end, she said.
The SBA and VT PTAC will provide free workshops in new HUBZone counties to explain the program and show businesses how to start the certification process. There will be at least six 90-minute workshops held between December and January, Herriman said, and the dates and times will be announced once they are confirmed.
To get certified, a business must be small; its principal office must be in a HUBZone; at least 35 percent of its employees must reside within a HUBZone; and the small business must be at least 51 percent owned by U.S. citizens, or be a business owned by a Native American tribal government, an Alaska Native corporation, a community development corporation, a Native Hawaiian organization; or be a small agricultural cooperative.
To answer questions on the program, the SBA HUBZone office offers eligibility assistance teleconferences Tuesdays and Thursdays from 2 to 3 p.m. More information is available at www.sba.gov/hubzone.
Herriman said HUBZone areas are chosen using several different sources of information, including the census, income data and economic data, as well as changes in the community, such as the U.S. Army Reserve Command closures in Rutland and Chester.
Along with the new Vermont HUBZone counties, Herriman said, Grafton and Sullivan counties in New Hampshire were also added to the program in the recent expansion.