SOUTH PORTLAND – Hundreds of small business owners from throughout New England met with representatives of federal agencies and government contractors this week at a networking conference in South Portland hosted in part by Maine Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins.

Maine business owners said the three-day Small Business Conference and Matchmaker event, which concludes today, was a chance to learn about the federal procurement process and make business connections that may lead to lucrative federal contracts.

Richard Ferrara, 53, of Monmouth pitched two products: security software and an aircraft telecommunications system. Ferrara, who runs Azymuth Telecom and Tailgent, said he appreciated getting “face to face” with potential buyers.

About 385 small business owners and 135 purchasing agents were at Wednesday’s all-day “matchmaking” session. More than 80 small tables were spread out over two conference rooms at the Wyndham Portland Airport Hotel.

The hectic atmosphere was reminiscent of speed-dating. Business owners moved from table to table, making their pitches to government agencies and to companies that hold government contracts and are looking to subcontract some of their work.

Among the businesses with Maine ties were General Dynamics, The Jackson Laboratory, Bath Iron Works, Cianbro and the Portland International Jetport.

Ferrara targeted the Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard for his security software products. “I’ve had a lot of business contacts and business discussions,” he said after a few hours of mingling.

Will Rood, owner of B&B Precise Products Inc. of Benton, employs 40 people and makes aircraft components, including those in Boeing’s Apache attack helicopters. No amount of cold calling could match the contacts he made Wednesday, he said.

“There are walls between you and them on a normal day,” he said.

After a similar event in 2006, Rood said, he landed a contract with an aerospace firm in Vermont.

Philip Lander, owner of Westbrook-based Atlantic Defense Co., said he attended the event to expand his business network and meet owners of other small businesses.

Atlantic Defense is a 20-employee company that helps build hospitals and roads on military bases, among other projects.

Lander said the conference gave small business owners a chance to learn about the federal procurement process and encourages contractors to act as mentors to newbies.

Lander said his company already works with the Maine National Guard, the U.S Department of Veterans Affairs and the U.S. Department of Defense.

The matchmaking events began 12 years ago and are held twice a year in New England. Maine last hosted one in 2006, drawing about 422 people, said William Card, Collins’ representative.

Small business owners pay $75 to attend, and exhibiting contractors pay $150.

Federal agencies are required to award 23 percent of their contracts to small businesses. Large companies that hold “prime” government contracts are “strongly encouraged” to hire small businesses for subcontracting work, said David Rego, chair of the Department of Defense Northeast Regional Council for Small Business Education and Advocacy.

Next year’s conferences are slated for Warwick, R.I., in May and Burlington, Vt., in the fall.

 

Jonathan Hemmerdinger can be reached at 791-6316 or at:

[email protected]