For small businesses looking to work with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Charleston District, the easiest way is to listen to the excitement and passion coming from the voice of Tonya Willis, the office of small business programs chief.
Willis, with her infectious smile and energy, leads the small business program efforts and relishes her role as a facilitator to others.
“I love to connect small businesses with the government and keep them in the forefront of government thoughts, said Willis. “We create contracts with different entities and are always thinking about how to employ and engage small businesses.”
It’s an important job, as the number of small businesses in the United States as of 2022 is 32.5 million and comprises 99.9% of all American businesses, according to the Small Business Association. In fiscal year 2022, the district had a successful year, obligating 760 contracts totaling $293 million with 61% of contract dollars obligated to small businesses.
Willis recently worked in the district’s contracting office as the business oversight branch chief for about three years before moving into her current position.
An 10-year Army veteran, she has been trained to achieve success in everything she does. She joined the Army after high school graduation as a graphic specialist and a paratrooper for six years. A military spouse who moved often, including several international assignments, she began working on a bachelor’s degree through American Military University online, as well as completed her master’s degree from the University of Phoenix in 2011.
“After the Army, I started to look for transferable skills since I was moving a lot as a military spouse.” she said. “I fell into contracting by asking a question while in Germany,” she said, referring to the moment when she asked about intern opportunities in the contracting office within the European District in Wiesbaden where she eventually landed a job as an intern.
She has been a contracting specialist and small business champion ever since.
There has been a variety of interesting and smart people she has met and worked with over the years, but one in particular became her role model and mentor.
“Lisa is such a great ambassador and storyteller of the district,” she said, referring to Lisa Metheney, the Charleston District’s senior civilian. “She is a wonderful leader who cares about the district’s people, purpose, and plans. I try to emulate that in my role working with small businesses.”
For small businesses wanting to work with the federal government, one of the first things to do is register on the systems for acquisition management website at www.sam.gov. Once registered, the website, U.S. Federal Contractor Registration, vets the small businesses, helps streamline federal sector onboarding and lets agencies know the business has been screened by the government.
“They can also reach out to small business representatives such as myself or to their local PTAC which is a local procurement technical assistance center,” she said. “Each state has a PTAC who connects with their local communities to help small businesses understand how to work with federal, state and local levels of government.”
According to Willis, there are a lot of resources that can aid small businesses who want knowledge and growth.
“My job is to be their first contact and get them in the door,” she said with a smile.
Willis believes the small business contractors are great partners who are essential to helping us accomplish our important missions.
“We couldn’t do it without them and our door to the Corps is always open,” she said, with pride and that big welcoming smile.