By Jessica Borders
Times West Virginian
The U.S. Small Business Administration and Pierpont Community & Technical College’s government contracting program is impacting the region and state in a positive way.
The Federal Acquisition Management Certification Program, in its sixth year, will start July 17 at Pierpont’s Center for Workforce Education, located at 320 Adams St. in downtown Fairmont.
Barbara Weaver, who is the primary instructor, covers all of West Virginia and western Pennsylvania as a procurement center representative and commercial market representative for the SBA’s Office of Government Contracting.
She has spent 12 years with the SBA, and has been working in the government contracting arena since 1976.
“It’s been my life for quite some time,” she said of government contracting.
Weaver designed the FAM Certification Program and has continued to refine it over the years.
She said she had heard a lot of horror stories about small businesses that were in trouble because they didn’t understand the federal requirements and were losing money and contracts. She was also spending a lot of time of her time with the SBA helping businesses become strong again and be able to manage their contracts.
This led Weaver to talk to Dale Bradley, vice president for administration and finance for Pierpont, and Paul Schreffler, Pierpont’s vice president for workforce and economic development, about her program idea and ask if they could support it. They jumped on board and it became a Pierpont program.
The FAM Certification Program runs for six months, with two-day sessions every month until the students graduate in December. There are 96 classroom hours, and students also commit time outside of the classroom to research and testing, Weaver said.
She explained that the program has six separate parts, starting with a overview of federal acquisition regulations and moving into planning for strategic growth. The students next focus on marketing and winning federal contracts and then learn about financial requirements.
Another component is negotiated procurement, which includes a mock negotiation, and the last piece is contract management, which deals with all the things related to managing a federal contract, Weaver said.
“It’s highly experiential,” she said. “They work a lot in teams.”
The sessions feature about 25 case studies. Because the case studies are based on real-life situations, it’s always interesting to see how participants solve those problems, Weaver said.
Business owners, government employees and other experts serve as guest instructors during the program. Weaver said previous students often come back to lecture and do a great job.
All of these individuals are happy to help because they believe in the program, she said.
“It really is positively impacting our area,” Weaver said.
She encouraged anyone who already has a business or wants to start a business and is interested in getting into the federal market to enroll in the program, which is limited to 30 students. Certain professions — managers, attorneys and accountants — can use this program for continuing education credits.
People have two years to finish the program, which means if they have to miss a class, they can make it up the following year and receive their certification at that time, Weaver said.
Since the program started, 167 students have graduated. In addition to West Virginia, people from Pennsylvania, Virginia and Washington, D.C., have participated, she said.
Weaver said she has seen many business success stories come out of the program.
Aarti Patel, CEO and president of Novus Federal Solutions LLC in Fairmont, graduated from the FAM program at the end of last year, and wants to take a few of the classes again this year as a refresher.
Patel, originally from Kingwood, is a graduate of University High School in Morgantown and The Ohio State University, where she earned a degree in operations management.
After doing some business consulting work and living in Chicago for a while, she decided to come back home to Morgantown.
She knew West Virginia was the right move for herself and her future company.
“I think this is a great area if you want to start your own business,” Patel said.
Plus, North Central West Virginia is just a few hours away from Washington, D.C., which is a huge location for federal contracting, she said.
“Federal contracting allows small businesses to grow to any size imaginable,” Patel said. “I think it’s a wonderful marketplace for women and minority business owners that have a a vision, drive and passion to succeed to be able to accomplish their goals.”
She established Novus Federal Solutions, a woman- and minority-owned business, in May 2011. The company, located in the Alan B. Mollohan Innovation Center in the I-79 Technology Park, offers information technology and operations management services.
She said her uncle, Nash Patel of DN American, has been a wonderful mentor to her.
Aarti Patel isn’t from the federal arena and wanted to enroll in the FAM program to get an overview of government contracting.
“It’s kind of a crash course into everything you basically need to know,” she said. “I thought it would be a great place for me to really go to understand where to start and how things work in the federal arena.”
Patel said she found out what small companies like hers should do to get noticed by the government and how to market her business to those agencies. She also learned about the different types of contracts available, how to figure out costs, and what steps she needs to take to grow her business at a steady rate.
In addition, the class allowed Patel to meet other people who were in the same situation and could guide her if she had any questions. She praised Weaver for the great work she does with the program.
“She’s just a wonderful person,” Patel said of Weaver. “She really does a great job of conveying exactly what the government needs and wants from all business perspectives. She wants to ensure that your values are incorporated into your business.”
The total cost of the program is $1,295, or $250 per class, and people can register online at pierpont.edu/ce.
To find out more information about the Federal Acquisition Management Certification Program, call Pierpont Community & Technical College at 304-367-4920 or e-mail email@example.com.
Email Jessica Borders at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @JBordersTWV.