Yvonne Ballard: Construction Mode

I graduated from Turner Construction’s 12-week Construction Management Course on November 15, 2017. It was a great accomplishment for my brand!

The program refreshed important aspects of the industry that I learned in college about 12 years ago, and it’s good to know that some of the same rules apply. Plus, I was able to learn a lot about new and improved safety measures, validating contracts, teamwork and project management. And I loved the feeling of good intent from others!

As a minority, I’ve seen a lot of programs that say they offer support, but in truth there are a lot of risks: bad customer service, unlimited loopholes, and being degraded for asking for help.

Turner, on the other hand, has a genuine team that is motivated by good will, and a support system to help my brand sustainability. The class had a culture of diversity and offered business opportunities to partner for more work. This was an awesome experience especially since my goal is to align my brand and expertise with like-minded developers so I can style the interior spaces of new structures.

During the months leading up to graduation, I attended another great event called ChallengeHER. I wasn’t sure how I would apply it to my business, but the name grabbed my attention. The September 2017 ChallengeHER event was held at the Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA), a familiar place that supported me years ago. The program offered a plethora of education for women-owned small businesses, procurement leads and a directory of face-to-face supporters. The link directly related to my certifications and gave me the confidence to approach new business ventures.

Looking back, it reminded me of when I began activating my gift into a career mindset in 2004. Initially, the odds were against me. At the time I was a young mother of three children with very little income. I enrolled in the Section 8 program at CMHA; this gave me the opportunity to attend college. I also qualified for daycare vouchers to send my children to school. It was the beginning of a great start for my independence, education and a better outcome for our future success.

We rented a little purple house at the time. The owner initially didn’t want to accept the Section 8 voucher, but I shared the benefits and promised to be a great tenant. We closed the deal. I practiced my design projects in that house. I later purchased a bigger home from the same owner with the assistance of the Section 8 homeownership program.

I was the first of my immediate family to own a home and complete college. I majored in interior design. My mindset was, and still is, “If I get an opportunity for support subsidies, I don’t use them to get comfortable but use them to further my education or improve my family situation—use them to improve our livelihood.” Even having faced discrimination, I maintain by focusing on the outcome.

Having a mindset to acknowledge support as an opportunity to propel forward and not as a crutch to get comfortable has afforded me nothing but success as a wife, mother, homeowner, college graduate, and entrepreneur. My objective is to be an inspiration to my family and community. That, in turn, enhances my drive.

Yvonne Ballard

President/Owner of NOVE home&body decor LLC


February Policy Update

It’s been a busy month on the policy front. Here are some of the highlights:

  • State of the Union: President Trump gave his State of the Union address on January 30. The speech highlighted the passage of the new tax framework, immigration, infrastructure, and the opioid crisis, among other topics. Trump recognized small business owners from Ohio to highlight the positive effects tax reform has had on their business.
  • Budget Watch: After missing the midnight deadline and a brief partial government shutdown, Congress passed a two-year budget agreement in the early hours of Friday morning that will raise existing budget caps on defense and non-defense spending and suspend the debt ceiling for a year. The Senate passed the measure 71-28 and the House 240-186. President Trump signed the deal. The agreement will temporarily finance the government at the current FY17 levels through March 23, allotting time for Congress to work out details for longer term spending. The bill also extends funding for disaster aid, Community Development Block Grants, Children’s Health Insurance Program, and Community Health Centers.
  • Immigration: In line with his promise to Democrats to end the last shutdown in January, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has scheduled a procedural vote for Monday on shell legislation to be used for a debate on immigration.
  • Census Annual Business Survey: The Census Bureau has proposed an Annual Business Survey (ABS), which will combine multiple surveys for the 2017-2021 survey years, in order to provide more current data to the public, more often, without minimizing quality. 2017 business numbers will be available in about three years.
    • Timeline for ABS:
      • Year 1: Research and development of data and models.  First beta product (2018)
      • Year 2: Refinement of models and data. Comparison to Other Sources. Additional years and Q/A of longitudinal properties (2019)
      • Year 3: Estimates of Non-employers by Demo Characteristics (2020)
    • Cyber Security: The House Small Business Committee held a hearing entitled “Small Business Information Sharing: Foreign Cyber Security Threats” last week, to examine R. 4668, the Small Business Advanced Cybersecurity Enhancement Act of 2017. The Small Business Caucus will hold a Cyber Security Event in February. Details TBA.

February Letter from WIPP President Jane Campbell

The first month of the year flew by and saw a lot of action in Washington, D.C. From two brief government shutdowns to the passage of a two-year budget deal with lots of new spending, our leaders have been busy tackling financial issues that have a significant impact on women entrepreneurs.

Jane Campbell photo.jpgWIPP is here to make sure women’s voices are heard during the hurly-burly of policymaking and help you to make sense of what is happening in our nation’s capital. The bottom line is the decisions our leaders make have an impact on you and your business, but it is not always easy to grasp what is happening from the headlines alone.

From creating a monthly series on policy issues where members can ask WIPP experts about the rapidly shifting policy landscape, to hosting ChallengeHER events across the country that will deliver the information and connections women need to succeed in government contracting, to producing informative GiveMe5 webinars, WIPP is dedicated to providing members with the information they need to thrive.

Please consider joining us today to reap the benefits of WIPP membership. After all, knowledge is power!

Tax Withholding Guidance Released

Taxes 2.jpegThe IRS recently released a notice providing the 2018 income tax withholding tables, showing the new rates for employees. The tables reflect changes made by the tax bill that was signed into law last month, including the increase in the standard deduction, repeal of personal exemptions, and changes in tax rates and brackets. They are designed to work with the Forms W-4 that employees have already filed with their employers.
The IRS is directing employers to implement the new withholding tables as soon as possible, but no later than February 15, 2018. This guidance is the first of several items that the agency plans to release this year in order to simplify the transition of the new rules.
For the IRS’s FAQ on the Tax Withholding Timetables, click here.

Proposed Rule Issued to Expand AHPs

Healthcare.jpgIn October, the Trump Administration issued an Executive Order directing the Department of Labor to expand access to Association Health Plans (AHPs).
On January 5, a proposed rule was published that would expand participation in AHPs for small employers and the self-employed. Specifically, the proposed rule would:
  • Treat AHPs as large employers (flexibility on pricing and products)
  • Relax the requirement that associations must exist for a reason other than offering health plans
  • Relax definition of “commonality of interest” as:
  • 1) Being in the same trade, industry or profession; or
  • 2) Being in the same principal place of business within the same state or common metropolitan area (even if the metro area extends across state lines) to make it easier for employers to group together
The proposed rule would also adopt non-discrimination protections that bar all health group plans from conditioning eligibility, benefits or premiums on health status.
The deadline to submit comments to the Employee Benefits Security Administration within the Department of Labor is March 6. Comments can be submitted here.

Need For 7(a) Lending Addressed in CR

WIPP and SBALinda 2.jpgAdministered by the Small Business Administration, the 7(a) loan program is a loan guarantee program designed to encourage lenders to provide loans to small businesses that might not be able to otherwise obtain financing. During the first half of FY17, the 7(a) loan program saw an increased demand with approvals 9% higher than in the first half FY16. This lead Congress to include an appropriations provision to increase the program’s authorization limit to $27.5 billion for FY17 from $26.5 billion in FY16.

The just passed continuing resolution to fund the government included a provision on the program. It authorized SBA to use more funding so they could administer the 7(a) program with increased demand.

Government Shutdown Comes to an End

capitol building.pngAfter a three-day shut down, Senate leaders reached an agreement to fund the government through February 8. The Senate voted 81-18 to pass the measure, shortly followed by the House, which passed it 266-150. The deal was based on a commitment by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to find a solution for Dreamers to remain in the U.S. until February 8. The agreement includes:

  • Authorizes the Small Business Administration to shift funding to administer increased 7(a) loan demand
  • Delays the re-implementation of the Obamacare medical device tax through 2019
  • Delays the re-implementation of the tax on “Cadillac” health plans through 2022
  • Suspends the Obamacare tax on insurance providers for 2019
  • A provision to provide back pay to workers who were briefly furloughed
  • A six-year extension of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP)

The continuing resolution (CR) includes other provisions which can be found here.

This is the fourth CR for FY18. As a reminder, a CR funds the government at current levels, in this case, FY17 levels. Having trouble keeping track of the CRs for FY18? See below.

CRs for FY18

  • September 30, 2017: First Deadline for FY18 – CR extended funding through December 8, 2017 (passed by Congress on September 8)
  • December 8, 2017: Second Deadline for FY18 – CR extended funding through December 22, 2017 (passed by Congress on December 7)
  • December 22, 2017: Third Deadline for FY18 – CR extended funding through January 19, 2018 (passed by Congress on December 21)
  • January 19, 2018: Fourth Deadline for FY18 – CR extended through February 8, 2018 (passed by Congress on January 22)
    • Note: The House passed a CR on January 18 to fund the government through February 16. After House passage, the Senate amended the CR by changing the expiration date from February 16 to February 8 and including the back-pay provision. The Senate then passed the amended bill yesterday afternoon, with the House following suit on January 22.  President Trump signed the bill into law that night.
Members Answer WIPP’s Call to Action!
On January 19, as the Senate was trying to find a way to keep the government open, we issued and Action Alert asking WIPP members to contact their senators about the shutdown. We’re proud to report that the Action Alert resulted in nearly 50 letters sent to Senators urging them to keep the government operating and telling them that shutdowns are bad for women business owners.
Thank you for making your voice heard and watch for future opportunities to engage!

2018 will be a big year for WIPP. Please join us!

January Letter From WIPP President Jane Campbell

Happy New Year!

Washington was hit by a deep freeze at the beginning of January, causing a bit of a slow start for Congress. But national politics has already resumed its’ torrid pace.

Jane Campbell photo

WIPP President Jane Campbell

Don’t worry, Women Impacting Public Policy, with cool heads and thoughtful deliberation, will continue to advance and advocate for meaningful public policy that has a positive impact on women business owners. 

We are off to a great start. This week, we held an informative and well-attended policy briefing to help our members understand the intricacies and impacts of new developments, like the tax law, in Washington. This will be a new monthly series where members can ask WIPP’s Chief Advocate Ann Sullivan and me questions about the rapidly shifting policy landscape.

On top of our policy work, we are planning a new series of ChallengeHER events across the country to deliver the information and connections women need to succeed in government contracting. We are also busy lining up an informative slate of GiveMe5 webinars to provide members with government contracting knowledge delivered by experts in the field. From taking the first steps into contracting to learning what to do once you’ve landed a big government contract, these webinars are an indispensable resource!

As you can see, WIPP is on track to accomplish many amazing things this year. But it’s your voice and membership that makes us powerful in Washington. And it’s more important than ever that women entrepreneurs make their voices heard. After all, if we are not at the table, we will only get the scraps.

WIPP is a nonpartisan organization that brings women from all walks of life and both sides of the aisle together to speak with one voice about what women in business need to succeed. Please consider joining us today.

Jane Campbell
WIPP President

ChallengeHER Success Story: Alba Gonzalez-Nylander is the Picture of Success

As an in-demand video producer, Nashville-based Alba Gonzalez-Nylander is experienced at making others feel comfortable in front of the camera.

Although resistant to taking her own advice, Alba overcame her shyness on August 2 to join other women business owners to speak on a ChallengeHER panel in Nashville. Organized by Women Impacting Public Policy, the Small Business Administration and American Express OPEN, ChallengHER workshops throughout the U.S. are designed to connect women-owned businesses with the resources they need to successfully pursue federal contracts. The government, historically, has fallen short of targets set for contracting with women entrepreneurs—an issue ChallengHER seeks to address.

“It’s so funny—I’m very comfortable behind the camera telling folks what to do, but don’t put me in front of the camera,” said Alba, noting that her first experience speaking at a ChallengeHER event was nonetheless a great opportunity to share how she strategically grew her business through government contracting. “ChallengeHER is amazing. I wish I had been able to attend an event like this because there is so much to learn about becoming successful in government contracting. With the right tools, it can be a wonderful avenue for women to succeed in business.”

Born in Venezuela, Alba came to the U.S. in 1984 and attended UCLA before finishing her Bachelor’s of Arts degree from Southern California’s Columbia College in television engineering and production. While at school, she worked for Univision, which sponsored her to stay in the U.S., where she eventually became a citizen.

She worked in broadcast television in Los Angeles for many years, including stints at Fox Sports, E!, Disney and Sony before moving to Nashville to work for TNN. In 2010, wanting to start her own business, she met Jennifer Fritz, an experienced wedding videographer, and after two years of researching niche markets, the duo realized the potential in government contracting.

An early government gig for AJ Media Services was with the Ft. Lauderdale Fire Department in Florida, a job that afforded them the opportunity to defy perceived limitations based on their gender by shooting a series of physically challenging fire-training videos.

“Being a woman business owner, especially in the kind of business we are in, mainly male-oriented, the expectation is that, as a woman, I cannot be going around with a camera and taking the shot,” she said. “But then they realized we work really hard and can do things like anybody else. I was on a balcony with firemen around me and very close to the fire.”

Repeat business with fire departments and universities became an important path toward building a portfolio of government work. But Alba said building a strong business in contracting involves constant researching of requests for proposals and staying nimble enough to respond to fluctuations in the market.

“It all depends on when governments decide to do video production,” Alba said. “At the end of the year, sometimes governments and universities realize they haven’t used certain pots of money so they decide to do a video. It isn’t every single year. Maybe they will wait five years before doing another video.”

To other women looking to enter federal contracting, Alba recommended getting certified with the Small Business Administration and their home state as a woman-owned enterprise. The next step is registering with the federal contract management system, establishing an interesting and up-to-date profile, and searching procurement forecasts.

“You can get ahead of the crowd and really be prepared when those things come in,” she said. “And attend government contracting events. That is huge. People need to get to know you and see your capabilities.”

Now the sole proprietor of AJ Media Services, Alba is seeking approval for the General Services Administration’s 8(a) Schedule so she can be even more competitive in the contracting marketplace. She’s ready to take her can-do work ethic and diversify her client base using what she called “the magic touch.”

“I have to work 12 to 15 hours a day sometimes to go the extra mile,” Alba said. “I know what the clients want—giving the human touch to everything. I don’t know if it’s the feminine side, but I always find a way to make people cry, in a good way.”

ChallengeHER Success Story: Neva Gardner Won’t Be Fenced In

Neva Gardner never expected to own a successful fence construction company let alone work directly with the U.S. government.

Yet, since 2004, the Idaho businesswoman has made major in-roads with Homeland Security and other agencies by strategically pursuing opportunities to compete, building a coast-to-coast reputation, and staying on top of regulatory shifts in the complex world of federal contracting.

Neva has twice served as a panelist at free ChallengerHER events in Boise, Idaho, to share her experience navigating a system that historically has fallen short of targets set for working with women contractors. The workshops organized by Women Impacting Public Policy, the Small Business Administration and American Express OPEN, are designed to be a one-stop-shop for connecting women-owned businesses with organizations and other resources to successfully pursue federal contracts.

In addition to launching as a woman-owned business to differentiate her company, Neva established a “set aside” as a service-disabled military veteran by joining the Small Business Administration’s 8(a) program for socially or economically disadvantaged business owners.

Of her interactions with ChallengeHER participants, Neva said, “Several women asked me how I did this or that, and it encouraged them to follow through with things they already knew or it got them thinking, ‘Oh, I can do that.’ Everything I have, I had to work for. Just because I had a ‘set aside’ doesn’t mean I had people knocking down my door for a contract.”

Neva founded Purgatory Fence Company in 2004, remaking a previous fence business her husband, Gary Plumlee, had started under a different name. “I had built fences with a baby on my back, and then started to realize that maybe I better help in a bigger way.”

Neva started going after government jobs once she learned the highly technical process of successfully completing bids. As president and CEO, Neva has largely kept the company away from commercial and residential projects, opting instead for federal agencies that provide steady work and pay invoices in a timely fashion.

“We started with barbed wire and built fences for the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service,” she said. “Then, we got into a lot of chain-fence and high-security projects for military installations.”

Getting approved for the General Services Administration’s 8(a) Schedule was a boon as there are not many fencing companies that carry that designation. But, as she has warned ChallengeHER participants, “Don’t ever put all your eggs in one basket. We never said we can only do 8(a) contracts. We still look out there on the Federal Business Opportunities website. We do market research.”

Another key to success has been keeping costs low and responding only to bids her company actually has the capacity to tackle, typically contracts of $500,000 or less that don’t merit hiring a project manager, Neva said. Purgatory’s primary employees are still Neva and her husband, and they prefer to hire subcontractors near the locations where they earn contracts rather than employ a full-time crew.

ChallengeHER events provide a venue for Neva to lend useful guidance to other women building a federal contracting enterprise. In addition to helping them understand how to start the process and market their businesses, she encourages them to be thoughtful about their trajectory—wisdom that she did not have the benefit of when she got into federal contracting.

“I had to figure it out on my own. I never had anybody teach me. I just did my research and moved forward,” Neva said. “We started the company with a credit card, and everything was borrowed. Now we’re a multi-million-dollar company. We live in a small rural market yet we travel all over the country doing jobs. You have to figure out who you want to be. You can still be small and do big dollars.”