Carolyn L. Higgins Contributing Writer

If you have ever thought becoming a federal contractor was way out of your reach, the HUBZone Federal Certification Workshop just might dispel your myths. This free event happens on Sept. 11, from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. at the Franklin Chamber of Commerce. The Franklin Chamber, Southwestern Community College Small Business Center, the Small Business and Technology Development Center (SBTDC) and the North Carolina Procurement Technical Assistance Center (NCPTAC) have partnered to help western North Carolina firms became certified participants in the Historically Underutilized Business Zone (HUBZone) program. Registration is available at or by calling the chamber at (828)524-3161. The HUBZone program falls under the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). It encourages economic development in historically underutilized business zones, (HUBZones) by established preferences that promote economic development and employment growth in distressed, low to moderate-income areas. This, in turn, provides businesses access to more federal contracting opportunities. Attendees will receive information on these topics: how the HUBZone Program works; benefits of the HUBZone Program; eligibility for the HUBZone Program; 8(a), Women-Owned, and Service-Disabled Veteran Owned certifications; and additional tools and resources. Deputy District Director Mike Arriola is located in Charlotte, N.C. but spent some time in the Western North Carolina area and vets the program highly. “I was the Asheville point of contact for 10 years, and I am very familiar with the geography and what is necessary in terms of doing HUBZone outreach activity in Western North Carolina,” said Arriola. “Franklin seemed to make the most sense because there is a fairly sizeable business population there, but it’s also sort of centralized there since the folks in Waynesville, the folks in Murphy, folks to the east of Franklin and Macon County can also drive in and take advantage of this program.” According to Arriola, HUBZones can be situated in rural, metropolitan, or urban areas and the SBA determines the designations based on the latest U.S. Census Bureau. “We are tasked at the SBA with reaching out to rural and HUBZone areas to let them know programs that are available to assist them and their small businesses – whether it is financing, counseling, capital, or government contracting,” said Arriola. “We have a HUBZone specialist, Aregnaz Mooradian, coming from Charlotte and our local procurement technical assistance counselor, Pam Racer, [will be] there as well to answer more generalized questions about tapping into the federal marketplace.” SBA’s renewed push The SBA is a federal agency that was formed about 60 years ago “to help Americans, start, grow and succeed in business.” According to the SBA website, North Carolina native Linda McMahon serves as the 25th Administrator of the SBA and advocates on behalf of the 30 million small businesses in America. Her team is dedicated to supporting entrepreneurs through access to capital and federal contracting opportunities; counseling and mentorship; and financial assistance following declared disasters. “With the new administration, our administrator Linda McMahon is sort of renewing our efforts and our focus to serve rural communities and communities that are in economically distressed areas known as HUBZones,” said Arriola. “With some of our other federal contracting programs, a lot of times you would have preferences or benefits if you are certified as a socially or economically disadvantaged business, a woman–owned business or a veteran-owned business. A HUBZone certification program is a little bit different because it is based on the physical location of your business as well as where at least 35% of your employees reside. And if both of those are determined to be in a HUBZone, you are kind of meeting some of the basic eligibility to become a HUBZone certified business.” Federal agencies are held to target 23 cents out of every federal contracting dollar for small businesses. This translates to a 3 percent target for HUBZone based businesses. The agency continues to miss its goals, because although there are many contracting opportunities for these awards, there seems to be a shortage of certified HUBZones to do the work for them. In contrast, they are faring well in meeting goals with women, veterans and socially disadvantaged firms. “So our mission is to go out and let folks know, ‘Hey this HUBZone federal program is available and we would like to sign you up if at all possible if you qualify, so that we can then assist with getting you some federal contracting work through the federal agencies that have work to be let out to small businesses,’” said Arriola. Fort Bragg, N.C. – an example of HUBZone opportunity Arriola recounted an opportunity shared with him regarding Fort Bragg. “In fact someone told me the other day, ‘just ask the folks over at Fort Bragg, they’ll tell you, ‘Hey, we’ve got this work, but we just can’t find enough HUBZone folks to do that.’ Fort Bragg is a huge installation, and that’s just in North Carolina. If you just think what it takes to run a good size city, which essentially is what Fort Bragg is, I mean they need all kinds of support services, dining facilities, and morale, recreation and welfare facilities. You know to run a good-sized city, chances are your firm can provide what is needed if you just think about that.” The federal government procures nearly $600 billion a year in goods and services of all kinds. Small firms are encouraged to first ask themselves whether their goods and services would be something that the federal government actually procures and then take steps to take advantage of the HUBZone program or other SBA offerings. Other SBA Programs and Services “We have capital programs working with banks and other intermediaries to help funnel capital to small business owners,” said Arriola. “We have a government contracting program to help small businesses gain a foothold in the federal contracting marketplace. We’ve got counseling and training programs that are offered through ourselves as well as all of our resource partners serving Western North Carolina and those would include the chapter of SCORE counselors to America’s small business, and the SBTDC, which is co-sponsored by us, and the University of North Carolina System. There is a relatively new women’s business center based in Asheville . . . and a Veterans Resource Center in Fayetteville.” A little-known program is Area Disaster Road Assistance. This is the only program where the SBA lends money directly to people who have suffered from natural disasters. Assistance may be available to help small businesses, nonprofits, individual homeowners and renters recover from disasters. These are the main program areas where the SBA can be of assistance to small businesses. Programs such as these have the potential to play a key role in Macon County and western North Carolina’s growing small business communities. Attendees will have many questions answered by the professionals on site, including the NCPTAC representative whose role is to help small businesses tap into federal opportunities. “I think folks that do meet the basic eligibility criteria will feel empowered that they know enough to actually pursue certification,” said Arriola. “I will say that not every area in Western North Carolina is HUBZone eligible, but folks who show up and find out that their firm is not actually located in a HUBZone will get something out of attending as well.”