Gander — Federal, provincial and municipal governments are involved in many facets of citizens’ day-to-day lives — highways, sidewalks, health clinics, schools, law enforcement, and everything in between.
And all three levels of government require many goods and services to run.
That’s a big market for small businesses to tap into, but how can they get a look-in?
That’s where the Department of Innovation, Trade and Rural Development comes in. Since 2005, the department has been working with local economic development organizations to hold workshops around the province focused on helping small rural businesses connect with the purchasing power of the public sector.
Last week, a conference was held in Gander for businesses in the
Kittiwake area, with help from the Kittiwake Economic Development Committee and the Gander and Area Chamber of Commerce. Representatives from various levels of government were keynote speakers.
Innovation, Trade and Rural Development Minister Shawn Skinner said the provincial government alone spends about $400 million a year in products and services and, combined with municipal and federal government purchasing, it adds up to over a billion dollars that could potentially be put into local economies.
“Local suppliers often don’t know we’re looking for (goods and services) and, in some cases, government doesn’t know there are local people who may be able to provide these things,” said Skinner.
“We’re trying to make businesses aware of the fact that there are opportunities in their own backyard and there’s no reason not to take advantage of those. ... It’s about connecting local business to various levels of government as customers.”
Skinner said no business should feel excluded from the opportunity of selling to the public sector.
“There’s no limit to the type of things we need — it could be use of helicopters and airplanes for fire suppression services, it could be use of trucks and tractors for responding to hurricane Igor, it could be pens and pencils, it could be magazine subscriptions. It’s literally from a needle to an anchor.”
Skinner said many businesses in rural areas don’t realize how many government agencies have depots and offices in nearly every nook and cranny of the province. He said the size of the business shouldn’t deter people from checking out the opportunities.
“Sometimes it’s a bit intimidating for small businesses, but don’t forget that (the vast majority) of small businesses in Newfoundland and Labrador are small businesses with less than five employees. They’re the driver of our economy,” he said.
“So while a little Ma and Pa store might not be able to fulfil a certain government order, they might be able to be subcontracted to fill a part of an order that a bigger company may have gotten. … Part of these workshops is connecting businesses with each other.”
Kent Crewe, a technical sales representative for a metal fabrication business in Glovertown — Fabtech Industries — said his company has been selling to the public sector since Day 1, and that accounts for about 20 per cent of its revenue.
“Selling to the public sector is something we pretty much do every day,” said Crewe. “When we come in to work in the morning we’ll check the various websites for selling to the federal and the provincial government,”
He said while he’s attended similar workshops in the past, he takes something new and beneficial from them each time, and believes any business can benefit from attending.
“By going to these workshops and learning the processes the companies have to go through is how we first got into selling to the public sector,” Crewe said.
“I still feel it’s very important to get to these events just to meet and connect with the representatives from the public sector.”
He said in addition to networking, attendees gain knowledge about websites and email lists, as well as other ways to keep their eyes and ears open for tendering projects for the public sector.
“The purpose is to ensure all companies can avail of these opportunities; anyone who wants to come out and meet these representatives and learn new aspects of the processes that they have,” said Crewe.
“It’s all about how to be a part of it and not to get left behind. If you have the expertise and the facilities, you’ll get an equal chance at selling to the public sector, provided you meet the criteria. The government is an equal-opportunity tenderer and employer.”
Skinner said selling to the public sector is beneficial for both sides.
“I believe, as a former businessperson, it’s a lot easier for us to sell to the guy or gal across the street than it is to sell across the world. You’re face to face, you build better relationships. … It keeps money local and circulates it within our own province, and it helps mature our local businesses who may want to expand to the opportunities that exist at an Atlantic and federal level while maintaining their operations base in Newfoundland and Labrador,” the minister said.
“Our department tries to help businesses grow. We have local indigenous businesses we want to see grow and expand, and one of the best ways to do that is tap them in to our supply chain so they become suppliers to various levels of government.”