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Contracting opportunities are plentiful, but do you know the best way to get connected to them?

CARRIE HULSEIn 1983, the U.S. Department of Transportation created the Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) program to help minorities gain access to contracting opportunities supported by federal transportation dollars, adding women to the groups presumed to be disadvantaged in 1987. The programs have three goals:

  • To ensure that certified DBE firms can compete fairly for federally funded transportation-related projects;
  • To ensure that only eligible firms participate as DBEs; and
  • To assist DBE firms in competing outside the DBE program.
  • Following suit, the State of Oregon created the Minority Business Enterprise (MBE), Women Business Enterprise (WBE), and the Emerging Small Business (ESB) certification programs in the mid-80s and, most recently, the Service-Disabled Veteran certification in 2016.

    The number of contracting opportunities for disadvantaged and emerging small businesses is on the rise. Public agencies and prime contractors are continually searching for certified firms to meet goals on projects. A common misperception is that these projects are primarily construction-related, but agencies assign goals to all types of projects.

    When applications for certification are received, our team of Certification Specialists at Business Oregon reviews each application individually to ensure only those firms that qualify are eligible to participate. Several factors determine whether an applicant is eligible for certification. Among them is the individual's ability to directly manage and control his or her firm. When applying for certification consider the following factors, all of which influence whether a firm is eligible for certification:

  • Do you operate your business independently, or are you dependent on other firms to operate?
  • Does your firm share office/shop space, personnel or equipment with other firms?
  • Is a previous, non-qualifying owner still employed with the firm?
  • Does your firm contract solely with one firm or prime contractor?
  • Are the relationships you hold with other businesses consistent with standard industry practices?
  • Do your business documents restrict or limit your ability to make independent decisions regarding your firm?
  • Do you hold the highest position within your firm?
  • Do you direct or cause the direction of the day-to-day and long-term operations of your firm?
  • Are you properly licensed within Oregon?
  • Do you have technical competence and the necessary experience to operate your firm without relying disproportionately on your employees or others?
  • In the several hundred applications we process monthly, we see cases in which the individual applying for certification does not have overall management and control of the firm, which is essential for eligibility. The most common example is a construction firm where the applicant may be involved in the firm and play an integral role in the management of the office, but does not have the knowledge or expertise to manage the primary construction services offered by the firm. Program rules state: "Generally, expertise limited to office management, administration or bookkeeping functions unrelated to the principal business activities of the firm is insufficient to demonstrate control."

    Another example is an individual that owns a firm providing professional services such as electrical or plumbing, however the applicant does not hold the professional licensing necessary to provide the services, but is reliant on his or her employees' licensing to complete the projects.

    We see many examples of these issues in incoming applications and encourage applicants to keep a few things in mind. disability, or size of the firm owned. The federal and state government did not design the programs to give the certified firms an advantage, but rather level the playing field. Certified firms are businesses first, certification is a tool not an entitlement to public contracts. Each certified firm still faces obstacles and challenges experienced by all business owners: they must market their business, submit competitive bids, meet or exceed the experience and capabilities required to perform the work, provide stable employment for others, and perform successfully in order to continue to generate a profit.

    Contracting opportunities are plentiful in Oregon. Not only in construction, but also throughout most state and local agencies and special jurisdictions such as hospitals, universities and large private firms that award contracts in areas such as IT, translation, marketing, graphic design, consulting and landscaping, to name just a few.

    Working with certified businesses has a true impact to the entire business community. The programs are successful when everyone participates and collaborates. Share opportunities and share information about certification with firms you think may be eligible. We value the quality of referrals we get from firms that might not be eligible themselves as well.


    Carrie Hulse is the program manager for the Certification Office for Business Inclusion and Diversity. Contact her at 503-986-0075 or by email at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

    Contract Publishing

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