ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - Alaska's Congressional Delegation and the Small Business Association chairman heard from Alaska minority-owned businesses Friday about federal contracting programs.
The SBA launched the 8(a) Business Development Program to award a portion of federal contracting dollars to small disadvantaged businesses.
A hearing on Friday educated the public on the importance of these contract dollars to Alaska.
"What this hearing is meant to do, is (let us) hear from you,” U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan said. “You're on the front lines."
Sen. Sullivan pushed for this hearing to happen in Anchorage, he said, following doubts from some members of Congress about how the SBA’s federal contracting programs actually put taxpayer money to use.
"It's really hard for people to understand in Congress," he said, "in the government, that Alaska regional corporations, native corporations, Native Hawaiian entities -- they play a role in the economy.
“It's not just an economic role," he continued, "but in many ways, a cultural role, a heritage role that is very important to this state."
Rob Wong, of the SBA Office of Government Contracting and Business Development, said that the public often misunderstands why minority-owned businesses take priority on certain bids for high-dollar government jobs.
"In working with Alaskans, the reason why they have larger contracts is not so they can buy mansions on the Potomac," Wong said, "but they have responsibility for economic development."
Chemtrack Alaska, Inc. President Carrie Jokiel said her business struggles to win government bids, and instead relies on SBA programs to connect her to jobs.
Additionally, she said, according to a 2016 Department of Commerce study, "women-owned businesses are 21 percent less likely to win a contract."
President of the Tlingit Haida Tribe Richard Peterson said his people do a "good" job, often saving the federal government money.
“We're very proud of that," he said, "and proud of our contribution to this great nation."
He said contract bids also provide stability for Alaska Natives who are economically disadvantaged.
"Without these programs, we would not be able to compete against the Lockheed Martins, the Boeings, and so on,” Peterson said. “This really levels the playing field, and when you look at it, we're still only fighting for a fraction of government contracting."
Chugach Alaska Corporation CEO Gabe Kompkoff said that in 2016, Alaska Regional Corporations brought in $8.2 billion, 24 percent of that coming from 8(a) government contracts.