With more than 3,700 attendees and 450 exhibitors, the 2019 SAME Federal Small Business Conference for the A/E/C Industry set a new record for the sixth consecutive year.

Held Nov. 20-22 in Dallas, Texas, SBC brought together professionals from across the public and private sectors—both large and small businesses and both military and civilian federal agencies.

The record attendance again this year and the visibly evident activity on the Exhibit Hall floor, during networking events, and in the halls and lounges throughout the Convention Center, underscored a fundamental reality about the current contracting environment for the federal A/E/C market: both government and industry are stretched to meet the needs of the nation. The workload right now is robust, and because of that, there is significant energy being invested in developing relationships that will secure teaming and subcontracting support. It was also apparent during SBC that recent and ongoing efforts to improve acquisition processes and to enhance collaboration between government and industry to delivery capability more effectively and efficiently are sincere. Progress has been real, even if the finish line has not yet been reached.

From the opening keynote speaker to the CEO Roundtable to the presentations by government leaders, the word of the week was risk—why it’s crucial for entrepreneurs; why it’s become the fulcrum in federal acquisition; and why we are facing it as a nation in this new era of Great Power competition.

SBC featured more than 30 hours of education sessions, business opportunity briefings, and networking roundtables—all designed to help small businesses learn more about government contracting in order to strengthen the industrial support to the nation from the A/E/C community.

Highlights of SBC included a keynote address by Matthew Griffin, CEO and Co-Founder of Combat Flip Flops and a U.S. Army veteran. He detailed the development of his company which promotes a mission of peace through trade by manufacturing merchandise in war-torn countries as a way of supporting economic growth. Robb Wong, Associate Administrator of Government Contracting & Business Development with the Small Business Administration, and The Honorable Lucian Niemeyer, Performing the Duties of Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Energy, Installations & Environment), also spoke during general sessions, providing updates on trends, initiatives, and priorities within federal acquisition.

SBC featured more than 30 hours of education sessions, business opportunity briefings, and networking roundtables—all designed to help small businesses learn more about government contracting in order to strengthen the industrial support to the nation from the A/E/C community.

The week closed out with a Senior Executive Panel, featuring insights from leadership of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Naval Facilities Engineering Command, Air Force Civil Engineer Center, and the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Office of Construction & Facilities Management.

SBC 2019 Keynote Speaker Matthew Griffin

Becoming a Success

Matthew “Griff” Griffin, CEO & Co-Founder of Combat Flip Flops, opened SBC on Wednesday, Nov. 20, with an engaging keynote address. A former Army Ranger and graduate of West Point, Griffin served in both Iraq and Afghanistan. During his tours, he deeply was affected by the challenges of economic struggle and lack of opportunities for youth in war-torn nations, which are leveraged by terrorists. They take them in, provide food and clothing for the families of the children, then inculcate the children into their groups. Over time, this breeds new generations of terrorists. Griffin has sought to stem this pipeline by starting factories and helping provide jobs in the countries impacted by war.

His address at SBC outlined the struggles his business dealt with, and then overcame, in getting Combat Flip Flops started. It was a tale, although unique in its specific circumstances, that many small businesses are familiar with. Challenges of location; challenges of supplies; challenges of labor and bandwidth; challenges of money; and even when you find success, the challenges of sustaining that success. An inspirational leader and business owner, Griffin emphasized the importance of taking risk and becoming what you want. Becoming is harder than being, he said, but by becoming, we can change the world. His approach each day is the same, and geared to helping become. You have to take risk. You have to get your rest. You have to say thanks and be grateful. You have to work your body every day. And you have to work your plan. While specifically speaking about people, in many ways, that same method holds true for companies looking to become, and stay, successful.

2019 SBC

Government Needs Industry 

Evident throughout the presentations by representatives from federal agencies was that there is a strong pipeline of work required of the A/E/C industry right now. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, for example, has a $58 billion program this year, according to Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, USA, U.S. Army Chief of Engineers and Commanding General of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. That is the Corps’ largest ever he said. To execute it will depend on the expertise of industry. In what has been a white-hot construction market, however, across sectors, finding the most qualified teams at suitable dollars will be crucial.

Traffic in the hall was strong throughout the week—whether companies were looking to showcase their products and services, make first connections, strengthen existing teaming and subcontracting relationships, or introduce themselves to contracting officers.

Improving the acquisition environment and making it more appealing for industry to compete in the federal arena, without government lowering its standards, has been a priority for senior leadership within the Defense Department. During SBC, this year’s SAME CEO Roundtable examined the issue of Cost Estimating and, in particular, excessively onerous contract requirements. As one participant provided, a recent solicitation for a parking lot for a federal client was 400 pages. A comparative project for a private owner was just a few pages. While it is understood federal acquisition will have more rules and stipulations, there is a point where it becomes prohibitive so much so that neither government nor industry benefits.

Throughout the week, business opportunity briefings from government agencies reaffirmed the state of the A/E/C marketplace again and again: the federal government, especially the military services, has significant requirements and needs industry to help deliver on them.  The Air Force after several years of taking intentional risk in funding sustainment, restoration, and modernization on its installations has recommitted to investing in its bases, which it considers power project platforms. For the Air Force, the base is a weapon system.

Naval Facilities Engineering Command has a significant military construction program. Additionally, the makeup of its program has shifted from where it allocated funds in years past, when many projects were  administration buildings, barracks, and support facilities. Now, in response to Great Power competition and the National Security Strategy, the Navy is directing more energy to facilities that support complex weapons systems, security, resiliency, and lethality.

Focus on Market Research

For attendees from both the private sector and the public sector, SBC offers a vibrant market research opportunity. More than 400 exhibitors, including large and small businesses, government agencies, and professional organizations that support small business such as the HubZone National Council and National 8(a) Association, set up shop at SBC. Traffic in the hall was strong throughout the week—whether companies were looking to showcase their products and services, make first connections, strengthen existing teaming and subcontracting relationships, or introduce themselves to contracting officers. A list of all exhibitors is available on the SBC website.

Also in the Exhibit Hall, commanders from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Naval Facilities Engineering Command hosted Commander’s Corners sessions, which enabled attendees to stop by and ask questions in an informal setting.

A very busy aspect of SBC was the Networking Roundtables. Held across two days, these small group meetings give small businesses a chance to meet face to face with acquisition personnel and small business specialists with both federal agencies and large businesses. Participants could ask questions about business opportunities, discuss the ins and outs of how to compete in federal contracting, and learn best practices for supporting large businesses as a subcontractor.

Networking receptions in the Exhibit Hall wrapped up Day One and Day Two at SBC.

2019 SBC

Learning the Ins & Outs

In addition to the market research aspects of SBC, learning how to navigate the federal marketplace as a small business is a valuable aspect of the conference each year. Using a Call for Presentations that solicited presentation ideas from throughout the A/E/C community, SBC featured sessions in five different tracks geared toward both new entrants to the federal space and seasoned businesses looking to grow further: Entering the Federal Marketplace; Marketing and Business Development; Regulations, Rules, and the Government Framework; Advanced Business and Procurement Strategies; Government Perspectives; and Small Businesses in the Overseas Market.

Attendees were able to take in sessions with titles such as “It Takes Courage to Stay Small,” “Top 10 Decisions Facing Small Business CEOs,” “Prepare Proposals like a Professional,” “CPARS from Beginning to End,” “Accounting System Compliance for Non-Accountants,” “Top Legal Questions from Government Contractors,” and “U.S. Commercial Service: Your Overseas Business Tool.”

Presentations from the education sessions are available on the sessions page on the SBC website. Click on the PDF icon next to the desired sessions. And, for the business opportunity briefings, audio recordings are available to accompany the slides. Select the arrow icon next to the desired session (note: audio is not available for education sessions).

Photos, Presentations & More

The 2019 SBC set an attendance record with over 3,700 attendees. That capped the sixth straight year the event has grown—from 1,653 attendees in 2013 to 2,067 in 2015 to 2,582 in 2017 and more than 3,250 in 2018. A highlight of the event annually is the presentation of the SAME Small Business Awards. The awards, presented this year by SAME National President Lt. Col. Buddy Barnes, F.SAME, USA (Ret.), recognize excellence as a small business and support of small businesses to federal programs.

Congratulations to this year’s honorees!

  • AECOM: Large Business Award for support to federal small business programs
  • American Engineers Inc.: Small Business Award for support to federal programs
  • Teri Williams, SBLO, The Haskell Company: Industry Small Business Advocate Award
  • Sally Clark, CPSM, AFG Group (Mid-Maryland Post): Post Small Business Liaison Officer Award

Presentations from the 2019 SBC can be found under the “learn” tab at www.samesbc.org and then by searching for a particular session. Photos are available at SAME’s flickr page. Recap the conference on social media using #SAMESBC19 and #MySBJourney. SBC will next be headed back to Dallas in 2020, to be held Nov. 4-6 once again at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center.

Thank you to all the sponsors, speakers, exhibitors, and attendees for making the 2019 SBC a success!