Looking to Tackle a Massive Infrastructure Modernization Project?

Nov 07, 2018
Bidsync Industry Blog

As first reported in Governing, a recent report by the Emerald Cities Collaborative and PolicyLink highlights “the multi-layered challenges that minority-, women-, disadvantaged- and veteran-owned business enterprises (or MWDVBEs) face in competing for infrastructure contracts” with the government. And though one of the primary recommendations is that public sector agencies find a way to make infrastructure projects more inclusive, private sector companies should not sit around and wait for the other side to take action.

There are thousands, possibly tens of thousands, of infrastructure-related projects put up for bid in North America every month. (Just look at the opportunities that our BidSync AI Relevance Engine generates for customers on a regular basis.) Every one of these solicitations encourages MWDVBE participation, with many offering significant competitive advantages for traditionally disadvantaged businesses in the form of set-asides, local preference points, 8(a) or HubZone designations.

Now, as the Emerald Cities Collaborative study revealed, there are inconsistencies in procurement practices and policies from one state or local entity to the next. There is evidence indicating “a legacy of discrimination in lending, contracting and business ownership” in some jurisdictions. This led the Collaborative to recommend that “states and localities should ensure that infrastructure investments give priority consideration to local contractors” to “level the playing field.” A recommendation we fully support. And while we’re not disputing that larger contractors do tend to win bids for many high-value government contracts, it is worth reiterating that many states, cities, counties and other municipalities are aggressively updating their policies or introducing new programs to encourage supplier diversity and promote inclusive procurements across all categories, including large infrastructure projects.

Look at New York, Massachusetts, and Philadelphia. Many others are also following suit knowing that “the process for bidding on these complex projects has become increasingly difficult for smaller contractors.”

And, yes, it is true that public-private partnerships (P3s) “tend to bid out large contracts to national or international firms rather than unbundling bids to match the capacity of smaller, local contractors." However, agencies are ultimately going to award infrastructure-related contracts to the bidder based on three primary factors: cost savings, schedule, and simplicity.

If you are capable of delivering a quality product on time, on budget, and without issue, then it is very possible to be a contender no matter the size of your company. In fact, pressure is mounting on the public sector to source locally as often as possible to stimulate economic growth, as is the pressure to make more awards to small businesses (SMB) and MWDVBEs. Whether you want to project-manage as the prime contractor or find yourself best suited to contribute as a subcontractor, there are a few steps you should be taking now to set yourself up for success:

  1. Talk to Project Influencers: A “committee” of stakeholders ranging from procurement officials to politicians, subject matter experts to customers will likely convene months in advance of a solicitation to define their scope of work, set budgets and timelines, and start to source information from “the public” (meaning contractors like you) to ensure their expectations are feasible and identify – and mitigate – any risks. These long planning periods present two opportunities to you. First, you gain multiple opportunity to express interest in participating and discuss your capabilities with decision-makers in the form of open briefings, public information sessions, industry days and advertised RFIs. Educate them about your skills, resources and expertise. Let them know if you have “green” solutions that they may in short supply elsewhere for environmentally preferred product (EPP) solicitations. Make them aware of your specialized capabilities or products, or your low prices if you’re a materials supplier. You also gain multiple opportunities to gauge whether or not this project is a fit for you. Remember, public sector agencies aren’t the only ones that must be concerned about resource allocations and budget availability for these projects. Before you bid on any project, you need to ensure that you have access to the people, funds and materials needed to see it through to completion – assuming you’re awarded the contract. Otherwise, there could be dire consequences for your business if you breach your contract or find yourself unable to sustain your business while waiting for payments. 
  2. Talk to Public Sector Procurement Professionals and Third-Party Organizations: It is just as critical to understand agencies’ bigger-picture small business and disadvantaged business contracting goals as it is to understand their award criteria for any one potential project. It is not always clear in a solicitation how preference points will be assigned to local, SMB, or MWDVBE bidders. Make sure you talk to each agency individually to understand their procurement practices and policies. And don’t be afraid to ask the contracting officer questions about the award process, proposal evaluation factors, or requirements that may be unclear in the RFP.  Also tap into national, regional and local organizations such as the Small Business Association (SBA) or Procurement Technical Assistance Centers (PTACs) for assistance obtaining certifications; securing the necessary insurance, bonds or credit lines; or increasing the marketability of your business. These third-party organizations can also help you navigate the often-complex RFP process for major infrastructure projects to ensure you don’t accidentally disqualify yourself due to an administrative oversight or improper certification. 
  3. Talk to Potential Collaborators: As emphasized in this guide, teamwork makes the government contracting dream work for many companies, especially when it comes to multi-million and multi-billion-dollar construction and infrastructure project bids. “Teaming agreements” also serve to benefit those who band together to (hopefully) win more government contracts – those who would otherwise be ineligible or unable to compete for contracts or who are lacking the resources to satisfy contractual obligations on their own. This includes small businesses that may not yet have the means to fulfill prime contractor responsibilities, or those new to government contracting that have yet to establish a public sector track record. In some cases, competitors may even choose to team up to supplement a single capability that would ensure their piece of the pie on a multi-faceted government project. That is why teaming agreements may be one of the easiest ways to create a more collaborative and more importantly, inclusive, contracting environment. If you are a prime contractor, think about how you can diversify your subcontractor pool. Utilizing local businesses, small businesses, or MWDVBEs may give you a more favorable position on bids while giving typically disadvantaged businesses a fair and equal chance to access new revenue streams from local infrastructure projects. Revenue that can boost both their business and local economies. If you are interested in becoming a subcontractor, be proactive in contacting primes to ensure they’re aware of your skills, resources and expertise – just as you did when networking with buyers and project leaders. Have “green” credentials that a potential prime contractor may be lacking to be eligible for environmentally preferred product (EPP) solicitations? Make them aware of your specialized capabilities or products, or your low prices if you’re a materials supplier. Again, third-party business development organizations such as the SBA and PTACs often facilitate networking to assist with introductions to potential teaming partners. If we sound like a broken record, it’s because these are points worth reiterating. Marketing yourself to the government market isn’t like B2B or B2C marketing. There are multiple influencers and decision-makers that you must reach in order to boost public sector sales, and multiple different tactics that must be used, as discussed here.

Finally, don’t forget to think outside the (typical keyword) box. (This is where BidSync’s new AI-powered Relevance Engine becomes really valuable). There have been many occasions where small, local or disadvantaged businesses missed out on winnable bid opportunities simply because they were searching a limited number of sites or relying on a limited number of keywords to identify current postings. Given the breadth and depth of government contracting’s “infrastructure” and “construction” categories, it is important to utilize technology tools that can fill your business development pipeline with more qualified opportunities in a timely fashion so that you aren’t wasting time searching for leads or scrambling to prepare bids at the last minute. For example, the new BidSync app uses AI and machine-learning technology to learn from your behavior. The search engine keeps track of what you open, what you bid on, what you don’t …and more. The result? You get the most relevant bids for your business and discover new *winnable* bid opportunities for infrastructure projects and beyond that simple keyword matching would miss.

The takeaway: Infrastructure project contracts are not exclusively awarded to enterprise-sized contractors and it is very possible to make such large-scale initiatives more inclusive. There are already several opportunities for small and disadvantaged businesses to secure a piece of the more than $250 billion that state and local governments spend each year on the construction of roads, schools and other public infrastructure, whether as prime or subprime contractors. That doesn’t even account for the opportunities that exist at the federal level. While the onus does lie on government officials to enact and enforce more inclusive contracting policies, small, local and disadvantaged businesses can encourage more inclusive contracting (and make sure they’re at least included in the consideration pool for these high-dollar projects) by demonstrating their capabilities and challenging the perception that small or disadvantaged businesses aren’t properly equipped to drive infrastructure projects .

Just remember that timing is everything. Government officials start scoping out these projects months in advance. P3s may take even longer. Keep your ear to the street. If you don't already have a BidSync account sign up and take a look at the scores of infrastructure bid opportunities available right now. Tap your network to get the scoop on future projects that may be in the works. Learn what agencies are looking for and start planning your response/identifying resources as early as possible – before the official bid solicitation posts. Talk to multiple sources about the resources you’ll need to be successful and do what it takes to prove that, even as a disadvantaged business, you have the means to deliver the same results as larger competitors.

It helps to build a strong team, even if that means you have to source outside your company to find the right employees and/or partners. The more you can do to bolster your (intellectual and financial) capital and your credentials, the more likely you are to become a viable candidate for some of the most competitive government bids – even as a small or disadvantaged business. Just don’t discount the value of “smaller” opportunities that are available in the infrastructure and construction categories. Subcontracting or teaming agreements could present fewer risks if you’re just looking to get your foot in the door and establish a performance record as a government contractor.

If you need help finding current bid opportunities or just want a reliable market research tool, visit www.bidsync.com to see how our new AI-powered Relevance Engine (and our team of experts) can help you find winnable opportunities.