LOS ANGELES - About 125 business representatives from across the state and beyond attended the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Los Angeles District's Business Opportunities Open House Nov. 13 in downtown LA.

The semi-annual event allows companies to introduce their capabilities to more than two dozen Corps' staffers and to learn about potential work along the Corps' business lines.

According to Eric Ravelli, deputy of Small Business Programs for the Corps' LA District, the open house is a unique venue that allows contractors and Corps' representatives to engage directly.

"In one morning, contractors get the opportunity to introduce their company to about 30 of our leaders," Ravelli said. "It is an efficient way, specifically for small businesses, to introduce their company to our staff."

The exchange with industry leaders is vital to accomplishing the Corps' mission, he said.

"Contractors perform 100 percent of our construction projects and about 65 percent of our engineering and design," he explained, "so it is essential for us to partner with quality contractors to accomplish the mission on time and on budget."

Corps' representatives with the LA District's Programs and Project Management, Small Business Programs, Planning and Engineering divisions, as well as its Military Construction, Civil Works, Interagency and International Support Program, Real Estate, Operations and Navigation branches were available to answer questions from those in attendance.

"We talk about our programs, we discuss our upcoming projects, we review the forecast (of contracting opportunities) and what we are looking for in a contractor," Ravelli said. "I specifically talk about small business programs, small business positioning and how to be a successful small business contractor."

The conversations during the open house also vary depending on the level of business, Ravelli said. Businesses that are current contractors with the LA District ask about upcoming opportunities and sometimes highlight their performance on recently completed projects.

"It's a way for existing contractors to reinforce their relationship with our District," Ravelli said.

Firms that haven't done work for the LA District generally talk about their capabilities, he added.

"Maybe they discuss recently completed projects with other Corps' Districts, the Department of Defense, state or local projects," Ravelli said. "They seek advice on how best to position their company to be considered for upcoming projects. It's a way for them to start and establish a relationship with our District."

Establishing those relationships and building trust between the Corps and potential business partners is vital to delivering the agency's construction program, said Maj. Scotty Autin, deputy commander of the LA District.

"The open house creates an environment that allows companies to build effective relationships with our team, as well as with each other," Autin said. "We have always viewed that we - the Corps and its contractors - are completing the project together, and, therefore, we must foster an environment of mutual trust, understanding and accountability. The open house presents the opportunity to immediately build that trust. It also allows us to show transparency on our upcoming projects and allows (contractors) to engage directly with project and program managers."

In fiscal year 2018, the LA District awarded more than 750 contracts valued at more than $556 million. About $368 million of those contracts went to small businesses, with about $313 million of that amount awarded to small disadvantaged businesses.

Additionally, the LA District was recognized earlier this month at a small business conference as the Corps' top District for the highest percentage of contracts awarded to small disadvantaged businesses, Ravelli said.

He anticipates at least the same percentage of small business contracts to be awarded in FY19.

The LA District's next Business Opportunities Open House will be in March 2019 in Arizona.

For more information about the open house or the LA District, visit https://www.spl.usace.army.mil/.

The LA District encompasses an area of 226,000 square miles across southern California, southern Nevada, a slice of Utah and all of Arizona.

The agency is responsible for planning, engineering, construction, real estate, regulatory, emergency management and environmental services for three Army and eight Air Force installations, interagency and international customers, and the nation's civil water resources infrastructure in the Southwest.