With an eye toward federal contracts, Tester sets employer workshop

The Missoulian

by Michael Jamison

In an effort to help Montana businesses win federal work contracts, Sen. Jon Tester has scheduled an employer workshop next month in Bozeman.

"When Montana companies compete on a level playing field, they win," Tester said.

The Democratic lawmaker first became involved in federal contracting last year, when news broke that stimulus dollars to be spent in Montana were being funneled to large, multinational firms. In particular, local contractors were upset with construction plans at Montana border ports, where federal contracting rules favored the bigger out-of-state companies.

Officials at U.S. Customs and Border Protection insisted that speed was critical, and using the big, pre-approved firms would hasten construction and put stimulus dollars into the economy more quickly.

But local businesses and Tester both cried foul, saying the intent of the economic stimulus package was to spread investment throughout the economy. Reconstruction of the five Montana ports will cost an estimated $77 million, and qualified local firms should be allowed to bid, they argued.

Eventually, room was carved out to allow locals to bid on at least some of the work, with several Montana firms winning the work contracts.

Among those companies was Montana-based CTA Architects Engineers, which won a $7.5 million contract for a border port north of Malta. Before that job, CTA had laid off 10 percent of its workforce amid the economic downturn.

"That's what we're doing with these workshops," Tester said, "we're leveling the field so Montana contractors and businesses can create more jobs and put folks back to work on Main Street."

All businesses are invited to the daylong event, scheduled for Feb. 19, at the Best Western GranTree Inn in Bozeman. A previous workshop brought a full house to Great Falls.

According to Tester, representatives from state and federal agencies will attend, answering questions and sharing information about how best to compete for federal work contracts.

Scheduled participants include officials from Malmstrom Air Force Base, the Montana departments of Administration and Transportation, the National Park Service, the General Services Administration, and the U.S. departments of Agriculture, Energy and Housing and Urban Development.

For information, or to sign up, call (406) 586-4450, or toll-free at (866) 554-4403.