The first presidential debate centered on how each candidate would spur the economy and put more people to work. But neither candidate touched on an issue of importance to many small business owners who rely on government contracts: the need to create more jobs in federally designated Historically Underutilized Business (HUB) Zones.
The Small Business Administration’s HUBZone program was created to help small disadvantaged businesses in urban and rural communities better access federal procurement opportunities. These preferences are extended to businesses with 35 percent of their workforce living in a designated HUBZone area and the company’s principal office located in one of these designated zones.
HUBZone areas have either the highest unemployment rates in the country or lowest state median household incomes. Most Americans living month to month off government support would prefer to earn their way but simply do not have as many options in their communities. Since moving is rarely a choice, given their financial situation, it’s time for a strategic solution with bi-partisan support.
Yet government agencies have failed to meet mandated federal spending goals of 3 percent for HUBZone businesses.
Each federal agency, including all branches of our armed services, has an Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization (OSDBU) run by directors and a small staff assigned to oversee federal funding for small businesses operated by women, minorities and other groups. The personnel at these offices are very knowledgeable of Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR) and electronic Code of Federal Regulations (e-CFR) and sincere about helping small businesses secure federal contracts with their agency.
Unfortunately, for small disadvantaged businesses, contracting officers with the agencies do not receive the training required to become knowledgeable of the HUBZone programs geared toward helping small businesses sustain and/or grow in high unemployment or impoverished communities throughout the country.
Without training for the contracting officers, the HUBZone program will continue to underserve the small businesses and communities that clearly need it the most. Little attention is also being spent on oversight and enforcement of the current mandated programs.
By increasing government spending to HUBZone businesses, enforcing the respective congressional mandated spending goals, and further incentivizing job creation in these clearly struggling areas, the end results will be positive and of historic magnitude.
Hopefully, both Democrats and Republicans alike will agree that lifting up and stimulating communities that need it the most is the foundation required for building a safer and economically stable United States of America.
Grant Haber is vice president of American Innovations, Inc., a Small Business Administration HUBZone and 8(a) certified woman owned small business in Chestnut Ridge, N.Y., that manufactures explosives detection capabilities for the Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security and civilian bomb squads.