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Supplier Diversity

Sandia National Labs promotes small regional businesses

The labs are committed to socioeconomic goals. In 2004, nearly $500 million in contracts was placed with small businesses, many of them MBEs and WBEs


Planning session for mission-critical projects and programs: Sandia's Theresa Carson and Dr Krishan Wahi of GRAM Inc.

Planning session for mission-critical projects and programs: Sandia's Theresa Carson and Dr Krishan Wahi of GRAM Inc.

For four years now, Theresa A. Carson has been manager of supplier information and relations at Sandia National Laboratories (SNL, Albuquerque, NM). She's located in the procurement center. "It's where the business opportunities come from and I'm part of the procurement team," she says proudly.

"We think about the economic impact of our supplier diversity policies on the New Mexico community, the diverse community and the small business community as a whole from a nationwide standpoint," she says. In fiscal year 2004, 50 percent of Sandia's commercial contracts were placed with small businesses, "and that's to the tune of $486 million," Carson notes.

Sandia, a prime contractor to the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) of the Department of Energy (DOE), is a wholly owned subsidiary of Lockheed Martin. As a government contractor, Sandia has been committed to small business programs for decades.

"We're a national laboratory and we participate in national and regional programs that target minority-owned businesses," Carson says. "We attend the WBENC conference and the National Minority Economic Development Week conference in Washington, DC, put on by the Department of Commerce. We leverage every opportunity we can to find and develop qualified small businesses to meet the needs of the labs.

"We also have a commitment to socioeconomic goals," Carson notes. Sandia has goals for small, disadvantaged, service-disabled and veteran-owned, HUD-zone and woman-owned businesses. Goals for each of them are negotiated annually with the NNSA.

Many of the small businesses contribute to Sandia's national security mission, working in areas of safe and secure nuclear energy and in the nonproliferation arena.

Sandia's supplier community advisory council
Sandia's supplier community advisory council began in 1999. The council, Carson explains, gives SNL a direct link to suppliers. "That helps us understand the impact of our policies and practices," Carson says.

"We needed to have one venue within the small business community where we could hear concerns and talk about changes. We have representatives from small businesses and also from business development organizations," she notes.

Some of those are the Women's Economic Self Sufficiency Team (WESST); the National Association of Women Owned Business (NAWBO); and Albuquerque's Hispanic, African American and American Indian chambers of commerce. There's also the Association of General Contractors which, Carson says, "is a cross section of the folks we do business with."

A rep from NNSA and the SNL procurement director are also council members. The group is chaired by the SNL VP/CFO, and once a year it briefs the labs' director.

The council also sponsors awards recognizing folks in the labs who are especially notable supporters of small business.

Generating connections at the supplier showcase
The presentation of one such award "has become the opening event for our supplier showcase," Carson notes. Sandia puts on the showcase in partnership with the city of Albuquerque and the mayor's office of economic impact and development.

The showcase recognizes small regional businesses and introduces them to major corporations in the area. The idea is to generate connections between Sandia suppliers and other companies, and the small businesses that participate are all active suppliers to Sandia.

Although most of the large companies that come are regional, a number of national organizations including the EPA, NNSA, the U.S. Air Force and Lockheed Martin have also participated.

Focus on security
Sandia's supplier diversity folks use the showcase to focus on certain commodity areas, based on the labs' forecast of procurement needs, Carson notes. For the last couple of years it's been homeland security which, she says, "could be just about anything that relates to nonproliferation and deterrence."

One example is a WBE that performs background checks. Others are involved with critical infrastructure, information and systems analysis, an IT component for security, and emergency response.

The 2005 showcase also looked to manufacturing needs like rapid prototyping and processing, machining, welding and fabrication. "The third focus area was suppliers who work with critical resources and environmental quality, looking at microsensors, remote sensors and waste characterization," Carson says.

Sandia also sponsors matchmaking events. These give the SNL technical line organizations and contracting reps a chance to meet with suppliers and talk about opportunities that may be coming along.

In fact, Carson adds, many procurement opportunities are listed right on the labs' website. The procurement information was developed in collaboration with the supplier community advisory council.

Mentor/protégés and NM small business assistance
Sandia's mentor/protégé program has been in existence for four years. "I wish it were mine but it belongs to a sister Sandia organization," Carson says. "It's a phenomenal program.

"They did a lot of benchmarking to come up with the best of the best. It helps small businesses develop their particular strategies, business plans and processes."

The program could involve one small business mentoring another even smaller, or it could be somebody at Sandia working with a small business to resolve a technical issue or problem, she notes.

Sandia, as one of the largest taxpayers in New Mexico, has been authorized by the state legislature to use some of its tax funds to expand small business capabilities and help them resolve short-term issues. A fair number of small businesses in New Mexico are MBEs and WBEs, Carson notes, and many are located in rural communities.

The labs also have the traditional tier 1/tier 2 relationships in place, where large suppliers are required to have their own supplier diversity connections. "Any contract over $500,000 with a large business requires a subcontracting plan," Carson says. "Then we negotiate goals of how much of that is going to small businesses."

GRAM Inc, a key supplier
Sandia's "key suppliers" are companies that have worked with the labs on significant projects over extended time periods, demonstrating responsiveness, cooperation and commitment to continuous improvement.

GRAM Inc (Albuquerque, NM), an MBE, has been doing business with Sandia for nearly twenty years. The name originally stood for Geological Repository Assessment Methodologies.

"They've worked with us on a lot of environmental remediation and restoration projects," Carson notes. "They support our mission-critical projects and programs.

"GRAM also happens to be a supplier that has given back generously," Carson adds. "When we first began our mentor/protégé program, they were one of the first to agree to become a mentor to other small businesses. And Dr Krishan Wahi, GRAM's president, has served on Sandia's supplier community advisory council from the beginning."

Starting GRAM
Dr Wahi, who was born in India, earned his BS, MS and PhD in ME at the University of Washington. After a year with Physics International, he found a job with SAIC, the engineering services firm. For nearly eleven years he worked in its San Francisco Bay area HQ and in Colorado and New Mexico on management of nuclear waste. "Then in 1986 I decided to go off on my own and be a consultant in the field," he says.

He had already done work for Sandia, leading a small group of people in the field of nuclear waste management. The labs were willing to have him continue on that project, and asked him, in addition, to bring on an expert in the health physics field.

"So we started off," Wahi says, "and other opportunities within the project came about. After a year I had five people in the firm and literally grew one person at a time from then on."

Going 8(a) in '91
The next year he picked up a second client, doing environmental work for the State of New Mexico. "In 1991 we got our 8(a) certification and that was the start of additional opportunities," he notes.

Over the next few years GRAM's Sandia business continued to grow. The company had sizable contracts from the DOE and the Department of Defense and had expanded into restoration and other environmental work, IT and GIS. Its employee roster was up over fifty, and it opened project offices from time to time in connection with various contracts. Right now its only other location is in Richland, WA, on the Hanford project.

Sandia is GRAM's largest single source
Through all the changes, "Sandia has always been a very significant client," Wahi declares. The proportions change, but right now some 70 percent of GRAM's work comes from the labs.

About five years ago Wahi joined Sandia's new supplier community advisory council. One of the council's projects was finding small businesses in the community that wanted to be mentored, and others that would do the mentoring. "Under that program I've been a mentor twice," Wahi reports. One of his protégés was an environmental business and the other operated in various technical service areas.

"I'm also on the committee that matches protégés with mentors. We ourselves were a protégé with another company about five years ago, and got a nice subcontract in connection with it," he says.

Wahi owns a second company, created to respond to specific Sandia needs. It's funded through Sandia, and so far has confined itself to project work at the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository site in Nevada.

"There's no question that Sandia has been a catalyst for us, and in return we've provided valuable scientific expertise and excellent technical support," Wahi concludes.


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