Kandi Stirman’s family business, Miami Cordage, has been manufacturing soft rope, wire rope, chain and synthetic webbing since 1960. The products are used in the marine, aircraft and building industries and are made in south Florida. Miami Cordage sells its rope and wire across the U.S. and Latin America.
In recent years, much of the company’s focus has been government contracting. While the company counts the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Navy and NASA as clients, learning the ins and outs of government procurement has been a challenge. Says Stirman, “It’s a lot of networking.”
Florida’s online MyFloridaMarketPlace makes finding contracts easier, but Stirman warns other small businesses that there is still a tremendous amount of legwork that goes into sifting through potential projects, working with prime contractors and, if applicable, getting certified as a minority-owned business. “It’s easier than it used to be,” she says, adding, “At least there is something to look at on the computer.”
Stirman says that rope and many other specialized products typically are not mentioned in requests for proposal even though the items must be used by prime contractors to complete the work. She calls them “hidden products” and says that to participate in a contract she has to figure out who might be bidding and then arrange to work with them as a subcontractor.
Stirman’s company is an attractive partner for prime contractors because, as a women-owned business, it has state certification as a minority business enterprise, or MBE. Some municipalities accept Florida’s MBE certification, but other localities and agencies, such as the South Florida Water Management District, have their own programs. There’s an ongoing stream of paperwork, says Stirman, who is currently working on getting federal certification as an 8(a) disadvantaged business because of her location in an Historically Underutilized Business Zone, or HUBZone.
Stirman’s latest frustration is that many government agencies have no qualms about buying from overseas suppliers rather than at home. One exception was the 2009 federal economic stimulus legislation that required using U.S. suppliers.
Stirman has been able to keep her 30 employees on the job even with 2009 sales down 27% from 2008′s peak of $4.7 million. “We’re still OK,” she says. “We’ve managed to keep afloat.”