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Small Business Is Big Business in AFCEA

Small businesses constitute a major element of AFCEA International's membership. Their breadth of activity in many ways reflects AFCEA's areas of interest, and the association is paying heed to their impact as well as to their needs.
By Lt. Gen. C. Norman Wood, USAF (Ret.)

Small businesses constitute a major element of AFCEA International’s membership. Their breadth of activity in many ways reflects AFCEA’s areas of interest, and the association is paying heed to their impact as well as to their needs.

In a way, small businesses are a microcosm of AFCEA. Their numbers have grown in recent years as larger corporations consolidated and advanced technologies began to emerge from smaller startups. No longer are large companies the dominant mainframes of industry. Now, innovation is distributed among a range of companies large and small, and all play significant roles in leading the information technology revolution.

Over the past few years, the association has been trying to provide more services, benefits and value to its small business members. Those efforts have not always borne fruit. So, this year, the association has taken a new tack for small businesses.

I have made improving AFCEA’s service to its small business sponsors one of my personal priorities. I recently met with Scott Denniston of the Department of Veterans Affairs, last year’s Small Business Committee chairman, and this year’s two new co-chairman T.J. Garcia of the Commerce Department and Gwen Johnson of EDS. Our topic of discussion was how to serve small business better within the AFCEA community.

Trying to service small business at large is too difficult a task to undertake. The problem is not resources nor lack of effort, but one of logistics. Many of these companies must be dealt with individually rather than as part of an overarching activity. And, that is where the association must focus some of its efforts.

For example, AFCEA chapters are inconsistent in designating small business contacts such as chairs, vice presidents or liaisons. Some chapters actively reach out to small businesses, whereas others appear to lack any mechanism to encourage their activity.

To address this shortcoming, AFCEA’s model chapter criteria have been changed to include having a small business point of contact. Chapters seeking model chapter status must incorporate this designation into their elements. European chapters have been excluded from this requirement because of diverse rules and regulations among the different nationalities on that continent.

In addition, the association has taken a strategic approach to helping its small business members by establishing a 12-month assistance program. This effort translates into individual attention given to a dozen vital areas of interest to small businesses, as determined by AFCEA leadership and the Small Business Committee.

These themes are fairly straightforward and involve practical issues for small business owners and officials. They include how-to items such as winning U.S. Defense Department contracts, finding mentors, writing proposals for both government and industry, applying federal acquisition regulations, obtaining intelligence/security clearances and winning classified business contracts, becoming involved in major programs, determining when to protest and growing a business.

Still other themes focus on information deemed important to small businesses seeking government contracts. These include the impact of service-disabled, veteran-owned small businesses; what to look for in subcontracting agreements; congressional issues affecting small businesses; the Defense Department’s Indian incentive program; and information technology requirements for various levels of government as described by chief information officers.

The Small Business Committee is devoting each meeting to one of these topics. The committee is meeting regularly on the second Tuesday of each month with guest speakers addressing these vital issues.

Spreading the word will not be limited just to those who are able to attend these meetings. Each chapter’s small business liaisons can join the meetings via teleconference simply by telephoning.

In addition, the Small Business Committee Report that runs in SIGNAL Magazine will carry the essence of the discussions in these meeting. Readers can glean useful advice from the experts at the meetings simply by scanning the column, which runs in the magazine’s Association News section.

The first such recap of this meeting series appears this month on page 98, where Scott Denniston explains how veteran-owned businesses can obtain contracts with the government. Future speakers tentatively scheduled include Maj. Gen. Harry D. Gatanas, USA (Ret.), senior acquisition executive for the National Security Agency, who will discuss small business opportunities in the intelligence community, and Lt. Gen. Charles J. Cunningham, Jr., USAF (Ret.), director of the Defense Security Service, who will describe how small companies can obtain essential security clearances.

SIGNAL also is expanding its annual Source Book category listings to include veteran- and disabled-veteran-owned companies. These firms are entitled to various set-aside business opportunities in government contracting. This would be a boon for larger companies seeking qualified firms as they bid for contracts.

These events are only a few of the measures that AFCEA hopes will bring meaningful benefit and assistance to the association’s small businesses. The aim is to provide better services and more value so that the association can truly point with pride to the fact that small business is big business in AFCEA.