Is Government Contracting Your Key to a Diversified Customer Base?

By Greg Faulkner, Director, Illinois Procurement Technical Assistance Center

Manufacturing industries face a number of challenges to remain in business and be competitive.  For many, there is constant pressure to grow their customer base, build on innovation, and create new efficiencies.  As businesses look to expand their customer base, opportunities in government contracting are often overlooked.  Lack of consideration is often based on perceived obstacles and burdensome paperwork that Arialmakes the process seem daunting. 

Last month, the Greater Peoria Economic Development Council organized a “trade mission” to the Rock Island Arsenal (RIA).  The RIA is the largest government-owned weapons manufacturing arsenal in the United States.  This event grew from a study analyzing manufacturer’s capabilities in Central Illinois.  The goal of the study was to: 1) evaluate the industry to better understand capacity and utilization cycles, in order to reduce the volatility of the industry; and 2) look for opportunities to diversify a customer base, leading to more continuous growth and helping avoid the cyclical boom/ bust cycles that have made it difficult for many businesses to know when to expand, purchase new equipment, or hire new people.

Diversifying a company’s customer base is an integral part of the solution to reverse the impact of economic conditions on business, workers, workforce development, and the community. Currently, manufacturing in Central Illinois employs nearly 15% of workers and is responsible for 32% of the region’s gross regional product.  These figures reinforce the importance of diversifying the customer base and flattening out the peaks and valleys of demand by exploring opportunities in government contracting.  Making the connection for Central Illinois manufacturers between the needs of the government and available capacity at their company was part of the goal at the RIA visit. 

Upon arriving at RIA, personnel from the Office of Small Business Programs greeted the manufacturers and made introductions to 14 different buyers. The buyers discussed their role at the Arsenal and what they buy. They also discussed how they purchase, where they go for market research on available sources, and how contractors are selected.  This was a great opportunity for the manufacturers to have inside access to the federal government procurement process.  Manufacturers exchanged business cards with the buyers, and briefly explained their company background and capabilities.  The RIA buyers were also presented with binders that contained information on each of the manufacturers. This visit to the RIA was very successful in helping area manufactures see the value and potential in government contracting. It helped to remove some of the mystery behind the process of obtaining federal contracts. It became clear that our manufacturers have the capacity, capability, and workers to succeed in government contracts. Yet clearly the perceived obstacles are a hurdle to many.

Companies willing to make the investment may see results fairly quickly. One Central Illinois manufacturer working with Bradley’s Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) approached government contracting for the first time to fill the growing gaps in local demand.  Fourteen months later they have been successful in receiving four government contacts.

In the weeks following the visit to RIA, the Office of Small Business Programs has shown a high level of interest in the manufacturers who visited, and there has been a constant stream of opportunities presented to the manufacturers for their consideration.  This has led to an increase in activity at the PTAC in the Turner Center for Entrepreneurship. To explore government contracting options, contact Greg Faulkner at or (309) 677-3297.