Arab-American Businesses Seek Government Contracts
Entrepreneurs support preferential treatment for Arab-American business
By Afzal Khan
Washington File Special Correspondent
Washington — “There are too many Arab Americans with Ph.Ds running falafel shops. They deserve better,” says Omar Kader, a successful small business owner of a computer technology consulting firm.
Kader was on a panel discussing Arab-American participation in small business at the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee‘s (ADC) 26th annual convention in Washington June 17.
Kader said there are billions of dollars available in federal procurement contracts on which Arab-American small businesses can bid.
In his view, Arab Americans should receive preferential treatment under a Small Business Administration (SBA) program designed to assist small, disadvantaged, minority-owned businesses.
The SBA program is currently open to recognized minorities such as African Americans, Hispanic Americans and Asian Americans but not to Arab Americans, unless they can prove social and economic disadvantage in the business world.
Arab Americans are classified as white and both their education level and household income are above the U.S. average, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Kader, an American of Palestinian origin, born and raised in Provo, Utah, is a pioneer opening the doors for other Arab Americans to be granted preferential status with the SBA.
In 1987, Kader founded Planning and Learning Technologies (Pal-Tech) and won certification as a disadvantaged small business firm with the SBA.
But he had to petition for years before Pal-Tech was recognized as a minority-owned disadvantaged firm.
Pal-Tech specializes in training, technical assistance, and the integration of technological tools and information to improve management systems. It recently won a multiyear contract with the U.S. Army to provide education and training products.
Pal-Tech was nominated for the 2003 U.S. Department of State Small Business Prime Contractor of the Year Award for providing high quality distance learning capacity to the Foreign Service Institute.
Headquartered in Arlington, Virginia, Pal-Tech today has 155 employees in five offices in the United States and two in the Middle East. Its annual revenue is $29 million.
Kader said that it is a good time for small businesses to bid for federal government contracts. He said $1 billion in U.S. military contracts were granted recently to six small business contractors because their clients considered the larger and better-known contractors too “bossy.” Another panelist, Bassima Esbeyt, said her firm, Digital Facilities, received minority, disadvantaged SBA certification after an initial refusal. Esbeyt said that one has to be persistent in documenting examples of “chronic” social discrimination and economic disadvantage over a period of years, and then follow up with the SBA.
As a woman partner of the firm, she felt she was on strong ground because the SBA now also considers white women a disadvantaged business minority.
Digital Facilities, located in Herndon, Virginia, specializes in custom application of computer software and employs 15 people. It has contracts with the U.S. Department of Defense.
ADC‘s Director of Legal Advocacy Carol Khawly, who chaired the panel, said ADC is petitioning the SBA to include Arab Americans as a disadvantaged business minority.
So far, three Arab American small business owners have received the classification, while petitions are pending for three or four more, according to Kader, who has become a mentor to other small business owners. The U.S. Congress created the SBA in 1953 to “aid, counsel, assist and protect, insofar as is possible, the interests of small business concerns.” The charter also stipulated that the SBA would ensure small businesses a “fair proportion” of government contracts and sales of surplus property.
Since 1953, nearly 20 million small businesses have received direct or indirect help from SBA programs that increasingly have focused on encouraging business participation by women and minorities.
Created: 23 Jun 2006 Updated: 23 Jun 2006