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Need some federal dough?

Hank Hayes • Sep 23, 2019 at 8:00 AM

KINGSPORT -- An email promoting a Kingsport Chamber event held last Tuesday had this teaser: “The U.S. government is the largest purchaser of goods and services in the world.”

The whole purpose of the event co-sponsored by the chamber and the Kingsport Office of Small Business Development & Entrepreneurship was to educate and assist entrepreneurs in becoming a client of the U.S. government.

The Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Tennessee District Office has launched “Drive 8(a),” a regional effort to recruit new firms into its 8(a) Business Development Program.

Each year, the federal government’s goal is to award at least 5 percent of all federal contracting dollars to small disadvantaged businesses. If accepted into the SBA’s 8(a) program, these social and economically disadvantaged businesses will receive nine years of business development assistance and will also be able to compete for federal contracting dollars by selling their goods and services to the federal government.

Eric W. Ruffin, president and CEO of Nashville-based Ruffin Consulting, was the presenter at the chamber event. He has provided project management and technical assistance to government and private sector clients for the past 15 years. Ruffin Consulting is an 8(a) Graduate and Small Disadvantaged Business (SDB).

“That 8(a) program is not only a certification program, it’s a business development program,” Ruffin said.

The federal government, Ruffin noted, doesn’t consider a business to be small if it has more than $36.5 million in annual revenues or more than 1,000 employees.

How do you determine whether you are a small business?

“You can’t be a crook,” he told event attendees. “You have to have ethics. You have to pay your taxes.”

People who get into the 8(a) program, Ruffin concluded, must have thorough knowledge of the federal eligibility requirement.

“You must also have a knowledge of the federal procurement process,” he insisted. “You must have an understanding of the federal regulations related to small businesses. You must understand federal terminology and acronyms. If you can’t talk like them, they’re going to believe you don’t know what you are doing.”

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