BY EMILY MEIDENBAUER
Woman-owned small businesses in Guam may now have an advantage when it comes to contracted work with the government of Guam, but there are strings attached.
On June 8, 2021, Gov. Lourdes A. Leon Guerrero signed Bill 71-36 into law as Public Law 36-26, otherwise known as “The Support for Women-Owned Businesses Act.” The bill was written by Sen. Amanda L. Shelton, chairperson of the Committee on Higher Education and the Advancement of Women, Youth, and Senior Citizens of the 36th Guam Legislature.
The goal was to even the playing field for women-owned businesses.
“The Support for Women-Owned Businesses Act is a step in the right direction to reflect our island’s progress in women empowerment and to ensure an equitable business environment for all,” Shelton told the Journal.
“What history has shown us is that by supporting our women, we support our community, and this is a key factor in overcoming the economic setbacks that have significantly affected our women-owned businesses,” she said.
According to Bill 71-36, woman-led businesses were disproportionately negatively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Shelton, among others, wanted to “bolster the ability of these businesses to survive the setbacks of the pandemic and regain their footing.”
“It’s no secret that women are underrepresented in many societal sectors, most notably in our island’s economy,” Shelton said. “And as we continue to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, economic recovery remains at the forefront of our island’s priorities.”
The new legislation reads, “Notwithstanding any other provision of law, if any entity of the government of Guam or any entity expending governmental funds intends to procure any supply or service which is offered by a business concern that is at least fifty-one percent owned by women, that entity shall procure such supply or service from that business concern if the supply or service is available within the period required by the procuring entity and the price for the supply or service does not exceed one hundred five percent of the lowest price bidder, and shall be in addition to any other procurement benefit the women-owned business may qualify for under Guam law. The procuring entity shall determine the lowest price to the entity in the case of more than one woman-owned business, or a women-owned business and a service-disabled veteran owned business, who are competing for the same government contract.”
The italics are from the legislation.
Though the new law is intended to help women-owned businesses survive the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, it might not help as many as it intended to, due to the conditions a business must meet to qualify. One of these conditions is being certified as a Women-Owned Small Business by the U.S. Small Business Administration.
According to the U.S. SBA, there are only five businesses in Guam certified as being a women-owned small business. These businesses are The Pit LLC, Cornerstone Valuation Guam Inc., Pacific Rim Services LLC, VSolvit LLC, and Advance Management Inc.
Advance Management is a building maintenance, management, and real estate services company that also provides integrated facilities management. Monty M. McDowell, CEO and principal broker, said the business was not negatively affected by the pandemic.
“We became a 24/7 operation,” McDowell said. “I refer to it as trying to save our island from COVID-19. We were out sanitizing, and people were calling; the phones were ringing off the hook.” McDowell said the company responded as fast as it could.
“We happened to have a lot of the equipment because we maintain [Naval Hospital Guam, and Guam Regional Medical Center] and because of the protocols we have in the health care environment, we had a lot of that equipment readily available.”
That equipment was used for hotels and other businesses that hired Advance Management to maintain cleanliness and mitigate the COVID situation, he said.
“So not only did it not negatively impact this women-owned small business; we were greatly enhanced by COVID. Other companies may have gone way south, but I couldn’t speak on t
McDowell said also doesn’t believe the new legislation will benefit women-owned small businesses the way it was intended to, and he believes that directly helping those businesses would be a better solution.
“We’ve got these five companies – these are the only ones that this entire law applies to,” he said. “Thinking that these five companies are going to come within 5% or less of the lowest bidder is very unrealistic. If you’re truly going to enhance the business posture women-owned small businesses, then put work in their hands. Hand it to them.”
Despite a limited belief in the new legislation, McDowell uses his 31 years of experience and the company’s position as a women-owned small business to his advantage, but aims to enter a realistic bid for local government work. “Even though they say they look at all the companies to see if they can truly do the work, I have 31 years of experience, but they go for low price. I always bid, because you never know.”
Even if Advance Management doesn’t win GovGuam bids, McDowell is confident in the business’s ability to succeed, both on and off Guam. He is currently waiting on a possible award out of Sioux City, Iowa that would include federal courthouses.
“My opportunities are far from just Guam,” he said. “Guam is just too small, and [the government of Guam] is too hard to work with.”
McDowell isn’t the only one who has had challenges in working with the government of Guam.
Jaylene Kent, president and primary owner of Isla Coatings & Roof Supply, said her business rarely takes on work for the Government of Guam.
“Unless you can carry the job without getting paid for several months, you can’t do GovGuam work,” she said. “We don’t go after it because the federal government is a much better customer … They pay on time; by law they have to pay within 30 days.”
Kent said about 95% to 99% of the work her company does is for the U.S. military. Even so, Isla Coatings would be ineligible under the new legislation, as it is not currently certified by the SBA as a women-owned small business. Kent said she did not previously see any reason to become certified.
“We are a self-certified women-owned business,” she said. “I think they’re moving more in the direction of being SBA certified, but that’s not required yet. We’ve been a women-owned small business ever since it became a certification of interest. It’s easy to do, you just upload all your documents for your company. It was optional, and I think it still is optional to be certified by an outside agency. That’s the only reason – it was the most rapid way to get it done. At that time, they didn’t even have outside certification agencies.”
Kent also said that Isla Coatings was not particularly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, but she did say that sales have “remained flat” over the past few years. And though the business is ineligible, she does see the merit in the new legislation, and said it will benefit those who do qualify.
“I think it’s really great to level the playing field and to stimulate economic growth, because we certainly need economic growth as we come out of this recession,” she said.
Kent says that despite the company’s history of avoiding work with the government of Guam, she is considering seeking certification as a women-owned small business with the SBA, and wonders if others will do the same.
“There’s never too much business,” she said. “But I would have to say that in terms of allocation of resources toward work that you know you’re going to get paid for versus work that you’re not sure you’re going to get paid for, we tend to allocate our estimating resources toward the better customers, which would be the federal government.” mbj