PTAC facing funding cuts, but standing firm for now

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Despite growing uncertainty about its government funding, the Colorado Procurement Technical Assistance Center is thriving, credited with creating 35,000 jobs statewide during the last four years.

The PTAC, based in Colorado Springs and launched nearly four years ago, serves to help lead private companies to lucrative government contracts. It is funded by a mix of government and private donations.

Its annual budget, $800,000 this year, is 25 percent public money from entities such as the State of Colorado and El Paso County, 25 percent private money from businesses and the remaining 50 percent comes from matching federal grants.

But state officials have already told PTAC Executive Director Ken Knapp they plan to cut funding, though no one knows by how much.

Since its launch, PTAC, which has satellite offices in Aurora, Grand Junction and Westminster, has helped some 3,000 businesses obtain $1.75 billion worth of government contracts. Its operating budget will grow 10 percent next year and it plans to hire an additional contracting consultant to serve the Western Slope.

Its story is a success by most anyone’s standards, which is why the organization, and its private donors, believe it will endure the state funding cuts by relying more heavily on private businesses.

And, the PTAC is in good shape for next year, Knapp said.

“I have the next year fully funded,” he said. “And that’s thanks to the private donors. We’re expecting less money from the state year after next, so we’ll have to fill that gap with private donations. But that’s part of the job for our board — and it’s not going away.”

PTAC has already lost funding from the City of Colorado Springs.

“I think with the new mayor and the budget, they weren’t sure the money would be there,” he said. “But the mayor and the city have been great supporters of the PTAC and we’re sure they’ll start donating again very soon.”

But the bulk of the private donations come from what Knapp calls “low-hanging fruit,” — the banks, economic development groups and investment firms from around the state, he said. Banks and financial organizations like 5 Star Bank, Wells Fargo and USAA are more readily able to see the value in the PTAC’s mission, he said.

“Those are really the businesses that ‘get’ what we’re doing,” he said. “If Colorado businesses get government contracts, that money eventually goes to banks. The contractors not only use banks for loans, but the employees’ checks go into local banks and that money stays locally. We really are an economic driver.”

5 Star Bank is a three-year supporter of the PTAC, and is focusing on lending to small business defense contractors. CEO Mike League says supporting the PTAC just makes sense.

“We’ve been involved since day one when the former Chamber got it rolling,” League said. “It’s a natural fit for the community — for better or for worse, we’re dependent on the DoD for a large part of our economy. We want to grow our defense niche, and this is one way of doing that.”

And League thinks the PTAC is doing what it should: connecting businesses to available contracts.

“They’re still really new, and they’re doing a pretty good job,” he said. “Of course, you have to crawl before you walk, and walk before you run. But their track record is pretty good. We’re on board for this year, and have pledged support for at least the next two years.”

Not everyone thinks the work the PTAC is doing is worthy of support, Knapp said.

“I actually had a business — one that had given us financial support in the past — say they weren’t going to help this year, because we were creating too much competition by making the contracts available to more companies,” Knapp said. “Well, that’s what we’re supposed to do.”

Even groups that compete for the same pool of local donations support the PTAC’s mission. The Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance is one of their donors, despite the fact that the group has to raise money from private donors as well.

But CEO Joe Raso says the group isn’t in competition with the PTAC.

“We’re a strong advocate of the defense contractors,” he said. “We don’t view it as a competition. We both want to find out industry needs and meet those needs. The PTAC provides an opportunity to get more jobs for local companies — and we support that. It’s definitely not a competition.”

Fundraising isn’t the only daunting task, Knapp said. The federal government has been operating on a continuing resolution for months, and the looming fiscal cliff has kept government spending level. State and local governments are also facing budget cuts, meaning fewer contracts worth less money for the PTAC’s clients. But Knapp says the contracts are still out there — despite increased competition.

The challenging, competitive business environment mean the PTAC is in even more demand as businesses seek more guidance to be more competitive, he said. That’s why he’s hiring. The PTAC is looking for a contracts counselor for the Western Slope. Currently the offices are in Grand Junction, but Knapp said he’d move them for the right person.

“I just need someone with the right qualifications,” he said. “I don’t care where they’re going to be located — we can put offices in Durango or Craig or Montrose. “

The PTAC needs more help, Knapp said, because businesses are still signing up for the services, despite the uncertain government budgets. The Colorado PTAC takes all comers, and is signing up 60 new businesses every month from across the state.

“We’re not just about veteran-owned businesses, or women-owned or minority owned,” he said. “Any Colorado business that wants to do business with the government — that’s our client.”