Cal U’s GACO shows area small businesses how to earn government contracts

Cal U’s GACO shows area small businesses how to earn state, federal contracts

May 6, 2017
Tim DiGuseppe of TD Government Solutions of Johnstown speaks during GACO’s federal government contracting seminar in March at the Meadows Racetrack & Casino. - Celeste Van Kirk/Observer-Reporter Order a Print

For the past 32 years, the Government Agency Coordination Office at California University of Pennsylvania has helped thousands of small businesses in a five-county region of Southwestern Pennsylvania become registered to do business with local, state and federal governments.

The organization’s free-of-charge seminars, which range from basic introductions on how to become a registered contractor for government services to updates on changes in procedures, have produced impressive results. According to GACO director Deborah Wojcik, since 1985 the agency has helped small businesses in Allegheny, Beaver, Butler, Greene and Washington counties procure more than $3.6 billion in contracts. It currently works with more than 1,600 area small businesses, providing contracting assistance services.

Wojcik believes that the historic contract figure, significant as it is, could go much higher if President Donald Trump is successful in pushing through his proposal for $1 trillion in infrastructure spending. While that would include repairing roads and bridges, it also would work on other infrastructure such as aging municipal water systems and extending broadband internet infrastructure projects.

Trump promised during his campaign to submit an infrastructure proposal to Congress within his first 100 days as president, but the timeline was pushed back as Republican leadership and the White House decided to tack healthcare and tax reform first.

The administration introduced a tax plan two weeks ago that did not set aside money for infrastructure.

Last week, Trump said that a new infrastructure plan was “largely completed” and could be filed within two weeks.

Bipartisan congressional negotiators reached a critical agreement last Sunday on a massive spending bill that would fund the government through the end of September. The bill has $1.5 billion for border security, including technology and fixing existing infrastructure, but doesn’t allow the money to be spent on building Trump’s wall.

Some believe that his original proposal to spend $1 trillion on infrastructure could end up being spent incrementally over a period of years to upgrade highways and other public-use projects.

There’s the chance that if the infrastructure push succeeds, some of that spending could be spread across Western Pennsylvania.

In March, the Great Lakes Metro Chambers Coalition, which includes representatives from the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce, expressed its support for federal infrastructure and presented a list of priorities in Washington, D.C..

The list includes projects critical to the Pittsburgh region: Bus Rapid Transit to connect Oakland to downtown Pittsburgh; appropriation of federal dollars for critical water infrastructure; and reconfiguration of the Parkway West tunnel.

And those projects are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg, as far as government spending is concerned.

The federal government is the world’s largest single purchaser of goods and services, awarding about $500 billion in contracts annually. Government agencies are ready to do business on a competitive basis with qualified that can supply needed products and services, of which the list is practically endless.

Some of the products purchased include manufactured parts, office supplies, valves, tools, medical supplies, construction materials and food. Government-purchased services included construction management, environmental, information technology, social services, housekeeping, research and development, architectural and engineering services, printing and training.

“The government is always going to be a buyer,” Wojcik said. “It’s a huge market. The government buys everything to support its operations.”

The government also wants to support small business by purchasing a percentage of the goods and services it needs. It also wants to support minority owned small businesses as well as those operated by veterans.

“Companies now should be thinking about getting applications” to begin the registration process, which can take a month or two, Wojcik said, adding that GACO works with women- and minority-owned businesses to help them achieve certification to conduct business with the government. It also helps veteran-owned businesses earn their verification.

Regardless of where they fall on the small business spectrum operators of all types should be thinking about becoming members in GACO, Wojcik said, noting that the organization conducts a variety of seminars, updates and training sessions throughout the year.

On May 25, at Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania, GACO will present the COSTARS Contract program, a free seminar detailing how area businesses can participate in the cooperative purchasing program managed by the Pennsylvania Department of General Services’ Bureau of Procurement. It allows COSTARS members local governments, public authorities, nonprofit educational and health entities, school districts and fire and rescue companies, to purchase products and services from businesses through a state contract established by DGS.

There are currently 34 COSTARS contracts ranging from copiers, IT hardware and office supplies to energy consulting services, graphic and printing services and grounds keeping.

In October, GACO will present its 30th annual procurement fair at the DoubleTree hotel on Racetrack Road, Last year’s event featured more than 50 exhibitors from government, corporations and local businesses.

Registration for the free COSTARS seminar can be made by May 23 at For additional information, contact Renee Decker at 724-738-2346 or

General information about GACO and its programs can be obtained from the Cal U website or by calling 724-938-5881.

Michael Bradwell has been business editor for the Observer-Reporter since 1995, and was named editor of The Energy Report in 2012. He joined the newspaper in 1990 as a general assignment reporter in the Greene County bureau and has also worked as a copy editor. A 1974 graduate of Pennsylvania State University with a degree in English, he began his career at the Bedford (Pa.) Gazette. Prior to joining the O-R, he served as public relations director for Old Bedford Village, account executive at two Pittsburgh public relations agencies and copywriter for the country’s largest wholesaler of mutual funds.

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