LANHAM – Kristine Cruikshank’s business cards used to proudly display the words “woman-owned corporation.”
But when some of her male employees were laughed at by a worker from another agency — “Umph, a woman owns you?” — Cruikshank pulled “woman-owned” off the cards for her company, Presidio Corp. It was already hard enough attracting business, she figured, and Cruikshank did not want to risk losing a potential client just because she was a woman.
Things have since worked out for Cruikshank, whose Lanham-based company did $15.2 million in business with the federal government in 1998. Only four other woman-owned firms in Maryland earned more from federal contracts that year.
But woman-owned businesses overall still have a tough time of it, according to a Capital News Service analysis of federal contracts over $25,000 that were awarded in Maryland.
The federal government spent a total of $190 billion contracting out jobs to private businesses nationwide in 1999, according to the General Services Administration. Woman-owned businesses got $4.6 billion of those contracts, just 2.4 percent of the national total of contract awards.
Woman-owned businesses in Maryland have done a little better. Of the $11.7 billion in federal contracts awarded in the state in 1998, the last year for which complete records were available, woman-owned firms got $475 million, or 4.1 percent of the state total. By contrast, woman-owned firms made up 10 percent of contractors in Maryland that were doing business with the federal government in 1998.
But even the Maryland numbers, while better than the national average, are too low to satisfy government officials.
“There are certain goals that the government has set for doing business with small businesses,” said D.J. Caulfield, a spokesman for the Small Business Administration. “There’s a 5 percent goal of doing business with woman-owned businesses.”
Caulfield said the government is only “half-way to that goal.”
“But there steps that are being taken to really aggressively pursue contracting with woman-owned businesses,” he said.
Most of those are the same steps that the government is taking to reach out to small businesses in general, and minority and disadvantaged businesses in particular.
The SBA has put most of its help to small businesses online, where contractors can take tutorials “that will step you through the process,” said Caulfield.
There also is a toll-free hotline that the agency has created for contractors, who can also seek help from small business development centers often found on college and university campuses, Caulfield said.
But Cruikshank said she never thought the government reached out to her as a woman trying to get a small business running.
“I think they try to be politically correct in doing it,” Cruikshank said of the government’s efforts. “But, I think it’s a lot of lip service.”