U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst hosted an entrepreneur expo at Iowa State University to explain how local businesses can get federal contracting opportunities.
By: Connor O’Neal
AMES, Iowa — U.S. Senator Joni Ernst hosted an entrepreneur expo at Iowa State University on Friday to support small Iowa businesses.
Dozens of federal agencies and hundreds of local and state businesses attended the event, which was intended to allow those federal agencies to connect and use the services of local businesses.
"We're pulling people out of Washington D.C. and we're putting them face-to-face with innovators, researchers and small businesses that can benefit us as a federal government," Ernst told Local 5 News on Friday.
Whether a business provides something as simple as notepads or pens, or if it's a service like cleaning cars, Ernst said the federal government could potentially use those services.
She also mentioned that in 2009, there were 945 Iowa small businesses with federal contracting, but that number fell to 336 last year, representing a nearly 65% loss in the last 14 years.
Friday's expo was intended to boost that number back up and get local businesses more help.
"We've got so many wonderful thinkers, ideas, here in the state of Iowa," Ernst said. "We wanna make sure that they have a shot and an opportunity at providing services for our federal government as well."
Diana Kautzky's Deaf Services Unlimited is one of those small, Iowan businesses that received federal contracting back in the 1996 before the decline.
Now, Kautzky's small business isn't so small anymore. Deaf Services Unlimited provides sign language interpreting and captioning services across the government, including in Washington, D.C.
"We need to be able to get in front of all of these different agencies and talk about how we can collaborate and work together," she said.
Ernst attributed the decline of local, small businesses participating in federal contracting to the COVID-19 pandemic. She also said federal agencies are in a "D.C. bubble" and that this event helps introduce them to Iowan businesses.
Watch Ernst's full interview here.