Eight Bemidji businesses rely on a feature of the federal Small Business Reauthorization Act to help them compete with much larger companies.
But the feature - the Historically Underutilized Business Zone - that gives these businesses a competitive edge, is set to expire Saturday, Oct. 1, if Congress fails to recertify it.
The HUBZone requires companies contracting on federal projects to give the small businesses opportunities to bid on subcontracts. Without this boost, contractors would automatically choose other big national companies as subcontractors.
"It gives us a chance to get in there and make our presentation," said Andy Wells, owner of Wells Technology, one of the local HUBZone companies. "We still have to compete. We have to show some reason why they would work with us."
Jeff Thielen of EXB Solutions, another local HUBZone company, said small businesses have to compete by being reliable, offering acceptable pricing and producing quality goods.
"It's another reason for a company to hire us," he said of the HUBZone designation. "It's not the main reason."
According to the HUBZone website, the idea is to give preferential access to small businesses in rural and urban communities that have high rates of unemployment. It's a measure that has been considered every three years and re-enacted by Congress.
The U.S. Senate recertified the HUBZone last week. The U.S. House of Representatives is working on the recertification now. The author of the "Protect HUBZones Act of 2011" is Rep. Rick Larson, D-Washington state, and is cosponsored by 10 other U.S. representatives, including Collin Peterson, D-Minnesota District 7.
"Hopefully, it gets extended, and we don't have to face that expiration," said Marcus Wiechmann, interim Joint Economic Development Commission executive director.
However, according to the HUBZone website, if Congress fails to recertify the HUBZone today, the issue isn't dead. It can be recertified later and made retroactive to Oct. 1.
"There's a lot of ways it can help," Thielen said. "It's an edge that you can get."
"I don't see any downside except the big (businesses) don't get it all," Wells said.
In addition to Wells Technology and EXB Solutions, Bemidji businesses in the HUBZone include Northern Engineering& Consulting, Roger's Two Way Radio, Inc., Bailey's Contracting, Inc., Wiebolt Electric, Inc., Hanson Electric of Bemidji and Karvakko Engineering, P.A.