The Empire State isn’t just a goldmine for potential businesses to set up shop. New York spends billions of dollars each year on a myriad of goods and services, from paper clips to construction work, to help our state run like a fine-tuned machine. During the last fiscal year alone the State Comptroller, Thomas P. DiNapoli, and his office reviewed more than 38,000 contract transactions valued at $37 billion.
Doing business with the State can have real potential for prospective companies—but only if you understand its procurement process and the laws associated with it.
As is always the case when dealing with our government’s complex bureaucratic systems, the first order of business is obtaining the appropriate licenses and permits. The New York State’s Online Filing System and Department of State’s Division of Licensing Services offer these services. It’s also important, regardless of whether your business decides to work with the government, because, according to the Small Business Administration (SBA), many owners and entrepreneurs overlook these basic requirements. They’re unaware of what the law requires, which is why the SBA offers links to state-specific license and permit information. And while you’re online, it’s a good idea to verify if your company qualifies as a minority or women-owned business.
According to Empire State Development’s website, their mission is to “promote equality of economic opportunities for minority and women-owned business enterprises (MWBEs) and to eliminate barriers to their participation in state contracts.” In some instances, this can mean that the State will award contracts without a formal competitive bidding process, so long as you qualify as an MWBE, small business, or service-disabled veteran-owned business. You can apply through this website for a certification; if you think your business is eligible, put this at the top of your to-do list. Once you’re up-to-date on the status of your business, it is the time to become a vendor and start bidding on government contracts. Companies can pursue contract opportunities through many different channels.
State agencies are required to notify the public about procurement opportunities valued at over $15,000. All notices are published in the New York Contract Reporter. According to the website, there have been over 200 contracts posted within the last 7 days; 848 contracts are available in total.
A number of New York agencies and public authorities also post their bid opportunities on their websites. Be sure to read the notice of procurement attached to each contract as it provides specific instructions on applying, eliminating a lot of the guesswork involved. New York State’s Office of General Services (OGS) has an Online Vendor Bid system that lists various IT, goods, and services contracts as well.
Businesses may also want to check Open Book New York’s website, where every department and agency that does business with sub/prime contractors is listed. Prime contractors, who typically deal with much larger order sizes than the usual small business owner can handle, often post smaller, bite-sized portions of their contracts here to be filled by small business owners such as you.
Making successful bids can be difficult for newcomers. You have to shoehorn your way into the competition, often against well-established and entrenched players. Pricing acts as the fulcrum of any deal, so there can be considerable pressure to raise or lower your prices, and a balance isn’t always so easily found. Too high of a price will knock you out of the competition, while too low a cost could might you a contract, but it could also ruin your business. There’s also the matter of in-sourcing, where jobs and contracts are given to government employees to perform, which can shut many small business owners out of a lucrative opportunity.
Even if you acquire a contract, you aren’t safe: your competition can resort to bid-protesting, too. It’s become much more common in today’s competitive environment. Competitors can make a bid protest as a claim that the deal was flawed, or that some aspect of it seems suspicious and needs investigating. The petition may not hold water, but contractors should be wary of the legal costs such protests portend, as it’s a common ploy to muscle small time contractors out of a deal.
To circumvent all of this, actively search for contracts to stay ahead of the competition.
Be sure to carefully review the specifications of each order, the delivery instructions— essentially the logistics of the contract itself. And don’t wait until the last minute. Be proactive. Reach out directly to designated solicitation contacts if you have any questions; remember that New York State’s procurement lobbying law imposes restrictions on communication during the actual procurement.
After the State receives your bid, it will evaluate it using what is called a FLIP procedure—the Financial and organizational capacity of your business, Legal authority to do business with New York, the Integrity of your business’s chain of command, and past performance prior to bidding—so consider all these facets that your business will impress upon the contracting officer reviewing your application
After being awarded a contract, the next step is a formal agreement between both parties which may require approval from the State Attorney General if the dollar threshold of the contract exceeds $50,000. The Office of the State Comptroller is also responsible for disputes related to how contracts are awarded, which means they’re the ones who give the final verdict on all bid protests. Hopefully, it won’t come to that. Once a contract has been completed vendors and businesses may receive their contract payments through several different options. These include secure ACH, or e-payments (a new feature that requires a simple registration), after which you’ll be able to check on the status of any payments, pending or otherwise. Or you can go the traditional route and take your check in the mail.
From the Thousand Islands-Seaway to the Adirondacks, New York State is brimming with opportunity and open for business. Don’t just live here—do business here, too.