Last month's article on federal stimulus funding, “Cashing In On the ARRA,” offered a broad overview of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) and the federal departments and agencies that will be spending the bulk of the $130 billion in ARRA construction-targeted funds to retrofit existing government facilities or build new green buildings. This brief article will offer a few hints on how your company can get a share of this massive federal spending program.

Familiarize yourself with ARRA's “Buy American” requirements

The more you learn about the ARRA, the more you bump into its confusing “Buy American” provision. This requires — broadly speaking and with some waivers and exceptions — all iron, steel and manufactured products used in ARRA-funded public building and works projects be produced in the United States. When and where the Buy American provision applies depends on the government entity involved with a project and the type of products. One electrical manufacturer recently got a call from a distributor who needed to know if the screws his company used in its fittings were U.S.-made, and if those fittings could be used on an ARRA-funded project at an Army base. A strict interpretation of which products are and aren't covered is beyond the scope of this article. Your best bet is to check with the manufacturer of the product in question, or the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA), Rosslyn, VA., which has been tracking ARRA closely. Hubbell Lighting, Greenville, S.C., and Eaton Corp., Cleveland, have particularly good information on ARRA's Buy American provision on their websites.

W.W. Grainger Inc., Lake Forest, Ill., offers a lot of valuable information on ARRA at www.grainger.com. In addition to providing its customers with basic information on the ARRA on its website, it flags the U.S.-made items in its online catalog and says customers can choose from more than 188,000 “Made in America” products. The website says, “Country of Origin is available on www.grainger.com, providing you the information to make an informed buying decision.”

Help customers with the ARRA reporting

It's comes as no surprise that the U.S. government would require all sorts of paperwork in a venture the size of ARRA, and indeed ARRA has some very specific reporting procedures outlined at www.recovery.gov, which is operated by a newly created government entity called the “the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board.” The bottom line appears to be that your customers must keep really good records of any products they buy for ARRA-funded projects. Grainger even has a special phone number for ARRA orders and says on its website, “Please notify us when you order that you are using Economic Stimulus funds to ensure your order is properly tracked. This allows Grainger to easily track Stimulus orders and in turn helps provide you with information you may need to comply with transparency and reporting requirements. You must inform Grainger that you are placing an ARRA order at the time of purchase for it to be properly flagged.“

Learn from the masters

If you are new to government business, you can't necessarily expect to compete toe-to-toe with distributors who have been in this market for years. But as Yogi Berra once said, “You can learn a lot by watching,” and there are some companies in this market niche that you should definitely keep an eye on. For instance, Graybar Electric Co., St. Louis, has for years gone after government business on a grand scale. It focuses on multi-million dollar national contracts from the federal government, contracts from state and local governments, as well as purchasing co-ops like the U.S. Communities Government Purchasing Alliance, a nonprofit government purchasing cooperative that assists local and state government agencies, school districts (K-12), higher education, and nonprofits in reducing the cost of purchased goods through pooling the purchasing power of public agencies nationwide. Other companies in this niche include WESCO Distribution Inc., Pittsburgh; Border States Industries Inc., Fargo, N.D.; Frost Electric Supply, Maryland Heights, Mo.; and Shealy Electrical Wholesalers Inc., Columbia, S.C. Explore what these companies are doing and see if there are some gaps that you can go after, perhaps some geographic areas they don't cover, products they don't carry in inventory or services they don't provide.