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Inaugural conference in Riverton aims to help small businesses plug into government contracting

A flier for the upcoming "Government Contracting Summit," with a photo of a room full of people listening to someone give a presentation.
Maureen Johnson
Wyoming Apex Accelerator

How can small businesses across the state expand their reach? Contracting to the government might not be the first answer that comes to mind for most entrepreneurs, but an upcoming summit in Riverton is hoping to change that.

The first-ever Government Contracting Summit will take place at the Intertribal Center on Central Wyoming College’s campus on April 8 and 9. The federal government often hires outside help for many parts of its operations, from road construction and pit-toilet digging to human-resources training and consulting. The conference aims to get more Wyoming businesses in the running for those sorts of contracts.

The event is being hosted by the Wyoming Apex Accelerator, which specializes in government-contracting advising at no-cost and is housed within the Wyoming Small Business Development Center at the University of Wyoming. Janean Forsyth, the Accelerator’s program manager, said that although government contracting can be complex, the pay-off is significant.

“It is a long game, but it can also be a really wonderful way to grow your business, diversify your customer base and maintain some really good long lasting relationships with really good customers,” she said. “The government's a great customer, they tend to pay their bills.”

This conference is an iteration of the GRO-Biz Conference, which was held in-person and then went virtual during the pandemic. It’ll cover topics like the Buy Indian Act, which allows the Department of Interior the ability to set aside contracts for Indian-owned businesses, and writing proposals for government contracts. The event will also feature guest speakers from the Army Corps of Engineers and the Wyoming Department of Transportation.

Forsyth said navigating the world of lengthy documents and certifications to become a veteran-owned small business or a minority-owned business can certainly be intimidating. But, a little education can go a long way for businesses to get their foot in the door when it comes to government contracting.

“There's a lot to learn and there's a lot of bureaucracy to wade through. I think that's where the Apex Accelerator comes in. I like to say we have Master's Degrees in bureaucracy – we understand how it works and we can help you,” she said.

The conference will also offer opportunities to create connections with potential government customers, using a “matchmaking” set-up where business owners can rotate through tables staffed by organizations like the Bureau of Land Management or the U.S. Forest Service.

“It’s one thing to be reading about this and looking at all the requirements and laws and feeling overwhelmed,” said Forsyth. “It really does help to be in a room with people where you can just ask questions and learn and shake hands and realize that on the other end of every government job is a human being, just like you.”

The event also provides a space for small businesses to meet other entrepreneurs and create partnerships based on their different strengths. Forsyth said that sort of collaboration can help businesses work together to accomplish bigger government jobs.

“You may also find opportunities to be a subcontractor,” she said. “Maybe a larger business at the conference already has some of these [government] contracts, but they need you to supply a part or a service that's going to help them fulfill a job.”

The Government Contracting Summit is being held in conjunction with Senator Lummis’ three-day Funding Summit Conference, which will also take place at Central Wyoming College from April 10 through April 12.

Those with questions about whether their small business might be a good candidate for working with the government are welcome to reach out to Apex Accelerator before the event to learn more about their eligibility.

Hannah Habermann is the rural and tribal reporter for Wyoming Public Radio. She has a degree in Environmental Studies and Non-Fiction Writing from Middlebury College and was the co-creator of the podcast Yonder Lies: Unpacking the Myths of Jackson Hole. Hannah also received the Pattie Layser Greater Yellowstone Creative Writing & Journalism Fellowship from the Wyoming Arts Council in 2021 and has taught backpacking and climbing courses throughout the West.

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