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New Hope for Women-Owned Businesses in Government Contracting

Experts say that it can take up to 18 months for a potential new government contractor to land its first contract, so they're hoping to be able to soon report positive results from the federal Women-Owned Business Program that took effect in February 2011. That's when the Small Business Administration implemented a rule authorizing the federal government to set aside contracts in 83 industries in which women-owned small businesses are currently underrepresented in the federal contract marketplace.

Why is this significant? With a budget of more than $550 billion, the U.S. government is the largest purchaser of goods and services in the world. But while women are majority owners of about 30 percent of small businesses in the U.S., they represent only about 13 percent of the businesses in the federal government's vendor registries. Legitimate access to this vast marketplace can help women-owned businesses generate employment and real economic growth across the country, advocates explain.

Helpful Resources
Although federal procurement remains a complex and lengthy process, resources are available to help women business owners navigate it, including the SBA's Women's Business Centers ( and the Procurement Technical Assistance Centers administered by the Department of Defense (

To be eligible under the SBA rule, a firm must be certified as 51 percent owned, controlled and primarily managed by one or more women who are U.S. citizens. Businesses can be certified by third-party certifiers including government entities and private certification groups, or they can self-certify by submitting appropriate documentation. In addition, firms must be "small" according to SBA guidelines--generally with no more than 500 employees for most manufacturing and mining industries, or $7 million in average annual receipts for most non-manufacturers.

The 83 industries affected encompass a broad range of activities, including construction, manufacturing, transportation, engineering, healthcare, food service, publishing, telecommunications, software, real estate and professional services. A complete list is available from Women Impacting Public Policy at


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