Empowering Local Economies: Leveraging Small Businesses in Public Procurement

By Megan Lancaster, Senior Research Manager, National Association of State Procurement Officials (NASPO)

Entrepreneurship and small business development have often been celebrated as effective tools in promoting economic stability and mobility within local communities. Yet, for many small businesses, the prospect of landing a contract with their local or state government can feel far out of reach. The complexities of navigating the public procurement process can appear daunting, leaving small business owners stranded on the sidelines. 

But there is help! New programs and resources are continually being developed to ensure governments can bridge this gap. These initiatives are empowering business owners and enabling governments to tap into new contracting opportunities with small businesses. This allows governments to obtain the goods and services they need while guaranteeing that economic benefits are returned to local communities. 

As we continue celebrating small businesses, there is no better time to highlight how local leaders can continue to support small businesses by helping them better understand the public procurement process and obtain government contracts. 

Why Public Procurement is Important to Local Business Communities 

Public procurement, sometimes referred to as government contracting, purchasing, or acquisitions, offers the potential for small businesses to tap into the enormous spending of local and state governments. In 2020, local governments spent $1.9 trillion on direct government expenditures, while states spent $1.7 trillion. Such government purchasing includes everything from maintenance services for government office buildings to printing supplies. These are goods and services that local small businesses can provide. 

Often, local leaders are the first to know about a neighbor starting a new lawn care or cleaning business. This proximity positions local leaders as ideal partners to connect small businesses to available government contracts. Raising awareness of these opportunities can help small businesses take advantage of them and circulate public dollars back into their communities.   

How Local Leaders Can Help Small Businesses Access Procurement Contracts 

The initial task for local leaders and organizations is to identify available resources that support small businesses. One does not need to be a procurement or business specialist; the key is knowing where to guide business owners. Below are several resources that can assist small businesses in your area in accessing local, state, or federal procurement opportunities: 

APEX Accelerators

Formerly known as the Procurement Technical Assistance Program (PTAC), the APEX Accelerators program works with small businesses to ensure they can compete and fulfill local, state, and federal government contracts. The program offers training, events, and publications in addition to a robust network of APEX Accelerator centers in each state. These assistance centers throughout the country can help small businesses:

  • Complete registration with a wide range of databases necessary for them to participate in the government marketplace (e.g., SAM). 
  • Identify which agencies and offices may need their products or services and how to connect with buying agencies and offices. 
  • Determine whether they are ready for government opportunities and how to position themselves to succeed. 
  • Navigate solicitations and potential funding opportunities. 
  • Receive notifications of government contract opportunities on a regular basis. 
  • Network with buying officers, prime contractors, and other businesses. 
  • Resolve performance issues and prepare for audit only if the service is needed after receiving an award. 

By using the locator tool on their website, anyone can find the closest APEX Accelerator service center.  

Small Business Certification Programs

Small business certifications not only provide a means for small businesses to market themselves, but certifications can also serve as a key step in ensuring eligibility and access to government contracting opportunities or financial assistance. These programs provide resources such as training, mentoring, and outreach events. Certification programs are often available at the local, state, and federal levels. Often, there is even reciprocity between organizations. 

For example, in Texas, the central procurement office has reciprocity with multiple programs, including those from the City of Austin and Houston and entities such as the Tri-County Regional Black Chamber of Commerce and the El Paso Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

Source: Comptroller.texas.gov

All of these organizations work together to support small businesses in Texas to obtain local, state, and federal contracts. Most states have similar networks and specialty tools. 

State Procurement Offices or Small Business/Supplier Diversity Offices

Many state procurement offices either have a supplier diversity team focusing on small businesses embedded in their office or an equivalent within the state government. These are wonderful resources, as many offer regular training, outreach events, and small business databases. For example, the Commonwealth of Kentucky has the Small Business Connection portal in which small businesses can register their products or services to become searchable to government agencies and larger cooperations.

In California, the Statewide Supplier Diversity Program staff offers one-on-one consultations for small business owners. A state’s procurement website is a great place to start. 

Source: DGS.CA.gov

Additional Procurement Resources for Local Governments and Small Businesses 

The landscape of local and state procurement widely varies, but there are many resources available to help public employees and small businesses better understand the procurement process, such as: 

NASPO’s Free Procurement U Courses, such as: 
NASPO Cronin Award Winner Webinar

Local leaders have unique insights into their small business community, making them valuable partners for local and state procurement offices, and this partnership can truly benefit a local economy. 

About the Authors