Mentor Protégé Program helps foster relationships between small businesses and the Department of Energy.
Since 2014, Consolidated Nuclear Security (CNS) has operated the Department of Energy’s Y-12 National Security Complex, a manufacturing facility for nuclear weapons components and other national defense materials.>
While CNS is the largest employer in Oak Ridge, TN, it is the small businesses in the region that keep the community’s economy growing and thriving. CNS is doing its part to ensure their success by participating in the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Mentor ProtÃ©gÃ© Program.>
The program fosters business relationships between small businesses and the DOE. CNS, which began participating in 2017, helps its protÃ©gÃ© companies with many of the technical and business skills needed to navigate the complex government bidding and contracting process.
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One protÃ©gÃ© CNS has worked with is Cindy Hatfield, owner of Hatfield Construction in Spring City, just south of Oak Ridge.
“In this area, the biggest contract jobs are with the (DOE) plants,” she says. “The submission process is very difficult, and it can be very intimidating for someone who has never gone through it. We applied to the program to have someone mentor us and give us just a better understanding of how government projects work from start to finish. The mentor has helped us get all our quality and safety programs and policies in place so we can more easily get through the approval process.”
Now in her third year as a protÃ©gÃ©, Hatfield says not only has she successfully completed several projects with CNS, but the training she and her employees received has helped her company grow and become more profitable.
“Our entire quality management system and program is up and functional. Our safety program is up and running,” she says. “CNS even trained my employees on several systems, opening up training that they might not otherwise have had access to. This has been a huge opportunity, not only for me, but for all our employees.”
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Diana West, owner of Manhattan Legacy Service (MLS) in Oak Ridge, was selected for the program in 2021. Her company offers a full spectrum of professional services, including facility operations, engineering and design, project management, construction management and computer programming development.
She says she hopes her mentor, Bill Barrett, senior program manager and subcontract technical representative at Y-12, can help identify deficiencies in her business model and help her improve them. Together, West and Barrett established milestones for growth, including marketing, such as website design, engineering and technical development, and proposal development.
“We’re going to be looking at the competitive rates of other businesses to make sure I’m in line with the competition,” West says. “They’re going to help me develop professional development strategies for company personnel. I’m hoping to learn how to advertise my company to attract the right talent. We’re going to look at the strengths and weaknesses of the business and opportunities for improvement and work on a matrix for potential contracts.”
Barrett says because the program is sponsored by the DOE, it opens the door for Manhattan Legacy Service to contract with other DOE facilities nationwide.
“There is a symbiotic relationship because MLS is supporting CNS,” Barrett says. “The program also puts MLS in the position where it can provide support across the entire department, which is a great thing.”
Through a series of meet-and-greet events, the program also helps strengthen the network between small-business owners.
“Once you’ve completed the mentor program, you have all these connections to work with, whether it’s as a primary or a secondary contractor,” Hatfield says. “For example, Trinity Contracting Services Co. is one of the electrical companies that we were introduced to through the mentor program, and we’ve used them for one of our projects.”
Barrett says this network is also beneficial to CNS because it deepens the pool of potential subcontractors. “Partnerships can exponentially increase the reach and capabilities of smaller businesses because where you may have a company that doesn’t qualify to work with CNS, that company can partner on a project with another business that does qualify, and now that company can compete.”
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