NH contractors connect with small business ownersBy DOUG ALDEN
New Hampshire Union Leader
December 13. 2015 11:40PM
MANCHESTER — Some of New Hampshire’s largest defense contractors can shop local, too.
People from more than 200 small businesses sat down this month with representatives from government contractors and other agencies to discuss the potential for a business arrangement.
“I’ve been involved in three of these over the last year,” said Peter Rienzo, director of operations for electronic systems at Harris Corp. in Nashua. “I think it’s the most energizing one of all.”
Not everybody was necessarily an instant match during the “matchmaker” meeting Dec. 4 at Manchester Community College, but the event was also about making connections and getting input on the best means for small operations to do big business.
Contractors including Harris, BAE Systems and Ratheon set up shop at tables along with government agencies such as the U.S. General Services Administration and Army Corps of Engineers. Delegates from each were there to see what the businesses in attendance had to offer.
Jon Lavoie, sales and marketing manager for Guild Optical Associates Inc. in Amherst, said organizers provided before the forum which contractors would be there and what they were looking for, which was helpful on both sides of the table.
“I thought it was great. There was a little something there for everybody,” Lavoie said.
Lavoie said he was able to focus his time on contractors looking for specialized optical components, such as lenses and windows Guild Optical manufactures from sapphire, which is much more resistant to scratching.
“There was a handful of companies looking for that type of product,” he said. “I would expect at least a couple of connections to get back to me at some point.”
Dave Pease, program manager for the New Hampshire Procurement Technical Assistance Program, said the matchmaker event was large enough to be worthwhile but not so big it required formal time slots for meetings.
“We think it’s a tremendously efficient thing for small businesses,” Pease said. “In sales, you invest a lot of time in trying to make contacts. Sometimes it works, sometimes you start over again.”
The Procurement Technical Assistance Program, which will officially go by Government Contracting Assistance Center as of Jan. 1, was one of the organizers along with the New Hampshire Small Business Development Center and the Small Business Association.
“None of us are probably big enough to do it by ourselves, but together we have pretty good resources,” said Pease, who also hosted an afternoon workshop on how to follow up and maintain relationships established during the matchmaker meeting.
Pease hosted the workshop again Tuesday at the Department of Resources and Economic Development. He said nine businesses from the previous matchmaker registered for the follow-up session. There were also training sessions and webinars available last month on the best ways for businesses to prepare for sitting down with the contractors.
“You come and you know who’s going to be here. You have a chance to do advanced research on who you’re going to see ... what kinds of things they need and want, and also what they don’t want,” Pease said.
Pease said that provided for an efficient use of time, which was appreciated on both sides of the table.
Rienzo said the setting was informal enough for the potential suppliers to relax a little while talking with him about what Harris was seeking in potential partners.
“You know what I liked about it most? Some of them took a risk to come here,” Rienzo said. “I see the passion that these people have in their businesses. It’s so cool to see it. It’s America.”
And America needs suppliers.
Jerry Smith drove up from the General Services Administration-New England offices in Boston and said the setting at MCC was just right. Larger matchmaker events have time slots, which lead to lines and meetings that sometimes get cut off too quickly.
“The time was more for the customer — how much time they needed than how much time I needed,” Smith said. “I got to talk to a whole lot more people at this one than I ever would have if they only had five minutes and people waiting for their slot.”
Pease said the event was an overall success. He was also pleased to discuss his department’s upcoming name change. The “Government Contract Center” is much easier to understand and a better description than “Procurement Technical Assistance Program,” he said.
“It’s ‘procurement assistance if you’re the federal government and you’re looking for a supplier,” he said. “That doesn’t mean anything to a small business.“