FORT RILEY, Kan. -- It was a busy day Nov. 15 when the 923rd Contracting Battalion and Mission and Installation Contracting Command hosted an Acquisition Open House forum at the 923rd CBN/MICC headquarters.It was the first event coordinated by the 923rd CBN since it uncased its colors July 20. The event included representatives from the main support agencies available to potential contractors: the Small Business Administration, the Kansas Procurement Technical Assistance Center and FedBid, Inc., as well as members from the MICC office of Small Business Programs at Fort Hood, Texas, and 923rd CBN/MICC at Fort Riley.Lt. Col. Mary Drayton, commanding officer of the 923rd CBN, began the forum by introducing its theme: "Victory Through Industry." The event emphasized providing attendees, which numbered around 50, the information, techniques and strategies to either begin applying for small business contracts or effectively continue doing so. It also provided a glimpse of potential opportunities coming in 2018.The forum also focused on the need to reach small businesses owned by persons categorized as disadvantaged according to certain criteria through a program implemented by the SBA called the "8(a) Business Development Program."Those categories include small businesses owned by veterans and those owed by disabled veterans, which are two separate distinctions as far as the SBA is concerned. Other categories include women-owned small businesses, minority--owned small businesses, or businesses considered disadvantaged due to their location in communities with residents earning lower median incomes, and/or with high unemployment.According to sba.gov, the 8(a) Business Development Program "assists in the development of small businesses owned and operated by individuals who are socially and economically disadvantaged, such as women and minorities, (and is) a tool for helping small businesses compete for and win federal contracts."The program uses 'set-asides' -- opportunities which are set aside for businesses in the aforementioned categories. "(They are) opportunities … exclusively for small business concerns," the website says.Stephon Ash, deputy district director for the Wichita District Office of the SBA, was on-hand to discuss the SBA, the 8(a) Business Development Program and set asides. He stressed the role of the SBA as an advisor to small businesses trying to access the large pool of available contracts coming next year."We are beginning to provide a lot more training and outreach (for small business owners)," Ash said. "So you'll see a lot more of SBA in places you probably haven't seen us before."When it comes to actual numbers of small businesses that have taken advantage of the 8(a) Business Development Program, Ash has done the research and it tells him many small businesses that could qualify under the socially and economically disadvantaged categories of that program, do not participate."We need to get the word out to the small business community because many are not aware of some of the opportunities," Ash said. While admitting that people "don't want to deal with the government because of things that are required, the paperwork," Ash stressed that "one of the things we need to do a better job of is educating the small business community that the paperwork is a small price to pay for the opportunities that are presented once you are able to tackle that portion (of the requirements)."Scott Knapp, deputy director for Kansas PTAC, based in Wichita, was on-hand to provide a brief snapshot of what the agency can do for small businesses wishing to do secure contracts with the Army.The services Kansas PTAC offers include a surety bonding program, federal loans and a loan guaranty program, counseling services on issues including marketing to the government, training opportunities for business persons wishing to learn more about contracting with the government, identifying bidding opportunities, bid and quote preparation, and the security concerns that every firm deals with when working with the government."This becomes small businesses' chance to tell the government about their company," Knapp told the group.Luis Trinidad is the assistant director of the MICC office of Small Business Programs at Fort Hood and, for him, there is one significant advantage provided by those businesses working with the agencies represented at the forum."Partnerships," he said. "You should work with the SBA and the PTAC because of those partnerships," Trinidad said, adding that, while some small businesses might not initially secure the larger contracts that prime contractors get, partnerships can lead to subcontractor opportunities, which, down the road, could lead to those more profitable opportunities.Prime contractors and subcontractors work hand-in-hand in what the General Services Administration of the federal government calls "contractor team arrangements." Such arrangements complementing each other's capabilities, the team offers a total solution to the ordering activity's requirement, providing a win-win situation for all parties, the GSA website at gsa.gov says, and provides "a total solution to the ordering activity's requirement, providing a win-win situation for all parties to furnish goods and services. Also, CTAs can help the government satisfy the socio-economic procurement goals outlined in the SBA's 8(a) Business Development Program.Essentially an online marketplace, FedBid at fedbid.com brings buyers of goods and services together with the companies selling them in a cost-effective way, said Sarah Mafe, senior account executive for FedBid. One large buyer is the Department of Defense.According to the website, 90 percent of the sales volume handled by FedBid went to small businesses. The company specializes in helping clients through the marketing and procedural maze that confronts business owners, opportunities for better understanding the government procurement process and bidding procedures.Small business owners and representatives at the forum were from professions that included general construction disciplines -- plumbing, electrical, flooring, drywall and plastering, heating and air-conditioning -- as well as security services, energy, printing, information technology and computers, training, medical services and landscape architecture and engineering.Among them was Michael Windsor, who represented a company that provides portable power and utility systems. The forum jump-started his interest in government contracts. "We're still a small business … so, for me to come here and get the information straight from the people who deal with the actual purchasing and set up the programs is very helpful to me and I'm looking forward to getting home and getting involved with some of these different programs," Windsor said.The forum ended with several representatives of the Fort Riley MICC providing testimonials on the importance of small businesses in providing high quality goods and services to the warfighters, the Soldiers and their families and the civilians who serve them.Drayton was pleased with this initial forum for the 923rd CBN."I think this went really well today," she said. "I think we got the right individuals in the room together. We had stakeholders from all over, from industry, and then individuals from the Mission and Installation Contracting Command and also the small business specialists."Drayton said the mix of expertise at the forum should help small businesses do business with the Army."We were able to show them some of the applications, like FedBid, that will help them in bidding for future contracts, not only here at Fort Riley but at installations throughout the United States," she said.The next forum is planned for May 2018.