So, we’re at a bidder conference the other day, mandatory in nature. If the business didn’t send someone to attend, it can not submit a proposal. We were really impressed by the emphasis the potential client made in encouraging the use of MWBE suppliers by the prime vendors expected to bid. Their staff made several announcements about the need for primes to engage minority and women business enterprises in their proposals and in delivering future services, which will be monitored by the client. One customer rep even suggested that no one should leave without at least two new contacts — prime or MWBE.
This request for proposal requires that primes commit to over 25% use of MWBE subcontractors – it is the highest goal we’ve EVER seen in an RFP for our services. So we’re thrilled, right? We made several great contacts and then we went on to engage in conversation with a representative of what we perceived to be a major prime contender in this procurement. When we asked about the potential to partner, we were told “I’ll give your card to the woman in our office who is responsible for that”. This struck us as just a little odd, that within 30 minutes of all the encouragement we were getting what felt like a typical brush-off.
We didn’t just become a certified WBE; we’ve been WBE-owned for our entire 28 years and got our first formal certification in 1989. Can’t really speak for this particular prime or its representative, it was late afternoon at the tail end of the event but the reaction was depressingly familiar. And we didn’t even get a chance to implement our own suggestions for overcoming stereotypes. Usually, we can get 15 seconds to say how long we’ve been doing this, and “oh, by the way, we just won a major contract down the street as the prime”. It just isn’t meant to be with that particular prime — or at least, the relationship won’t be built with that contact.
Last spring we participated as a subcontractor with another vendor. During the proposal process, we were told how great the opportunity would be and how significantly our resources would help in completing the work. The award was made, three months later we finally sat down with the prime again. They’re struggling for ways to spend the minimum required amount with us, and admitted they never use subcontractors. We’re a compliance issue for them. Granted this is the proverbial foot in the door, not so much with the prime but past performance with another government agency never hurts.
What we’ve learned over the years about MWBE compliance from a subcontractor’s perspective: It’s not easy. Of course, nothing that potentially rewarding ever is! Some primes will be dragged kicking and screaming into partnering with MWBEs. And, just maybe, it will be the best prime/sub partnering relationship experienced by either organization. As an MWBE supplier, persistence, patience and optimism are key tools when navigating the subcontracting roller coaster ride. And, one day in the (hopefully) not too distant future, it WILL have changed.