Small businesses struggle to win business after Hurricane Katrina

With the need for emergency efforts and immediate response, small businesses fall short of providing their services in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, even though they want to be able to offer assistance and be part of the recovery. Why?

It is very difficult for a small business to reach decision makers quickly in time of crisis, and to be able to deploy their services quickly. In addition, it seems to be believed that small businesses should subcontract under large primes, which is a big disadvantage to the small business because they lose visibility with and and sometimes the relationship with the decision makers and end users.

As in many emergency situations, contracts are being awarded quickly in response to Katrina, outside the normal competitive process — meaning that relationships matter as much as skills. Small companies have a tough time winning government business in this type of environment. How can small businesses be a part of the solution and recovery if they are not given the opportunity? And how do small businesses make themselves visible to be called upon to be part of the relief work?

It has been pointed out that local businesses in the effected area have been called upon but businesses located outside of the region are not being utilized. Prehaps a comprehensive database needs to be established between SBA, FEMA, and DHS that small businesses can list their capabilities of assistance, timeframe to deliver, location availability, and ease of contract.

For example, in a GovExec article, Kevin Arvay, a satellite communications advisor based in Leesburg, Virginia, started calling federal agencies charged with cleanup and reconstruction as he thought he could help build the required communications systems. He has never received a return call. If he was previously registered in a database which was approved by the federal decision makers, he may have been an immediate POC in the days following the disaster. Maybe small businesses need to be more proactive in the months ahead, helping become a part of the new readiness and responsiveness systems that are going to be developed and deployed, and make sure that we insist that systems be created that will enable our abilities to be of service in times of national emergency.