Leveraging Small Business

By Philios Angelides, P.E., F.SAME

Increasingly over the past 25 years, the A/E/C industry has been challenged to attract talent and expand capacity to meet the ever-growing needs of delivering both vertical and horizontal construction projects. The recent $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act, instituted to fund much- needed transportation, energy, and other infrastructure-related projects has only compounded this problem, even as it aspires to generate jobs and promote economic returns.

An established strategy to the capacity issue has been to focus on STEM (or STEAM) programs, with the goal of inspiring students to embrace science and mathematics and pursue related careers. Other strategies include attracting talent from other industry sectors and re-training them.

Despite these efforts, the delta between workload growth and availability of resources continues to increase. Additional avenues to expand the talent with existing resources must be explored. Further leveraging the significant capabilities of small businesses is a prudent option to consider.


Small businesses represent over 80 percent of the A/E/C industry. The majority of these firms usually serve as subconsultants to other medium and large firms that are prime consultants on government contracts—either project specific or task-order type contracts such as indefinite-delivery indefinite-quantity (IDIQ). While there is value in terms of service delivery from these small businesses serving as subconsultants, additional value can be derived by expanding opportunities for small businesses to serve in a prime consultant role. Capacity in service delivery is achieved not only in terms of numbers of staff working on projects, but also in terms of capacity to lead in executing those projects.

Traditionally, many firms have been involved in supporting discipline-specific roles with narrow service focuses. Owners can expand opportunities by soliciting more discipline-specific IDIQs where small businesses can serve in a lead role and drive service delivery through their own resources. Should the need arise for support from other disciplines, small businesses can fulfill those requirements by leveraging other in-house capabilities or teaming with other small businesses or even large firms, which can provide added capacity and mentoring opportunities.

Similarly for project-specific procurements, small businesses can serve in a lead role based on proper assessment of project size, complexity, and scope. For all these opportunities, a market search outreach by owners can yield the availability of qualified small businesses able to lead these efforts.

The benefit of this expanded outreach is multi-faceted. First, the owner gets to appreciate the add-on enthusiasm of a small business serving as prime consultant on a contract they were previously only a subconsultant. Getting an opportunity to lead generates an added incentive for a small business to succeed by delivering quality work in a responsive manner, since they recognize that this is the first step in future opportunities to serve as the prime.


Owners can gain additional long-term benefits through the expansion of the prime consultant pool with small businesses. First, more firms will build institutional knowledge of an agency’s programs and practices, which helps expand options for an owner. Having more options also provides broader opportunities for an owner to receive innovative or fresh ideas.

Another benefit is that small businesses will be better prepared to compete and lead contracts when the time comes for them to graduate from the small business program. At that moment, they will have benefitted from showcasing that they successfully led similar projects—providing owners the add-on confidence of their ability to execute unrestricted contracts.

With the unprecedented level of public sector funding, expanding A/E/C capacity to lead and deliver successfully is of critical importance. Let’s take advantage by leveraging the capacity of small businesses to do so.

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