The federal program to help so-called Sec. 8(a) businesses can be a huge help to small minority-owned firms, and has been used wisely at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and other agencies for many years.

Just ask Charles Bryant, who won four contracts from HUD—in part because his company earned a Sec. 8(a) designation as a small, minority-owned business from the Small Business Administration (SBA).

“It’s a good program,” said Bryant, president of Charles T. Bryant & Associates, based in Pasadena, Calif. His firm earned a Sec. 8(a) designation in 1996, four years after Bryant founded the company.

Bryant bid against other companies with Sec. 8(a) designations to win his four contracts. For each contract HUD assigned, Bryant worked up to a certain dollar limit that he never expected to meet. For example, his first contract to inspect buildings in Los Angeles County for their ability to withstand earthquakes had a limit of $5 million, though the contract only turned into $800,000 in work.

Bryant eventually traveled to more than 25 states to survey the repairs on HUD buildings for later HUD contracts. At its peak, his company employed 25 people.

Bryant has spent the last two years focused on school construction projects, although he is hoping to do more work with HUD. He expects the competition for contracts to be more difficult now that he has graduated from the Sec. 8(a) program. “If I have 10 employees, I could be competing with a company with 50 employees and a long track record. It’s tougher,” he said.

Bryant didn’t have any close relationships with HUD staffers or politicians to help him win contracts. Instead, he made connections by handing out business cards and making cold calls to building companies and government agencies. “Nobody ever just walked up to me and handed me a contract,” he said.

According to Bryant, the key to getting repeat work was to show “not only that you’ll do the work but that you’ll do the work accurately and on time.” SBA programs even provided Bryant with a low-interest loan to build a 12,500-square-foot office building for his firm.