Big companies that make their living with a shipload of shovels or a fleet of cement mixers are in the money as the federal government pours billions into infrastructure spending to revive the economy. But is your smaller firm out of luck?
Not if you do your homework, say public procurement specialists. Although much of the spending is for big-ticket items, says Patti Magee, principal consultant of Ottawa-based Government Procurement Consultants Ltd., “For SMEs, there will be plenty of opportunities in subcontracting.” And, she says, the Economic Action Plan (EAP) is creating openings to provide business services such as HR, IT, engineering, architecture and project management.
Ottawa is spending $19.8 billion on everything from roads and bridges to social housing and upgrades of government research labs. Although most of this is funding construction projects, some is going to high-tech programs such as robotics projects and the new Clean Energy Fund. And, despite the government’s statement that 90% of the EAP budget has been committed, many projects are at a stage early enough for you to become involved.
Ottawa is transferring some EAP money to provincial or municipal governments, and all three levels are listing many of the resulting contracts on the central MERX public-tenders website. But in some cases, you’ll need to contact the government department most relevant to your line of business.
Court Stevens of Victoria-based procurement consultancy DC Stevens Consulting Group Inc. says that you can identify contractors pursuing EAP projects through MERX, which reveals who has downloaded bid documents. “Let’s say I have a small business with two trucks that haul dirt,” says Stevens. “I can’t bid on fixing the Trans-Canada Highway, but I can look at who’s downloading the RFP documents, go to them and say, ‘We want to haul between Moose Jaw and Medicine Hat.'”
Magee says the EAP is creating strong demand for project-management services, such as helping with scheduling and cost control. She advises registering with SELECT, the Public Works and Government Services Canada database of approved suppliers of construction, architectural and engineering services. “Public Works doesn’t have many engineers and architects,” says Magee, “and there’s a real dearth of project-management expertise in government.”
You should also get on the radar of firms that have large ongoing government contracts and are therefore well placed to land EAP projects, says Shereen Benzvy Miller, director general of the federal Office of Small and Medium Enterprises, which helps SMEs sell to Ottawa. For example, she says, the engineering firm SNC-Lavalin has one of the largest on-going federal contracts for building maintenance — and it regularly rotates business among subcontractors. This is your chance to get on lists that could land you business long after the EAP is history.