Edgardo J. Toro was met with a healthy dose of skepticism whenever he discussed his company’s plans to pursue a $20 million contract from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Hurricane Maria had just devastated Puerto Rico, and Toro was among the millions of islanders committed to staying and rebuilding. As the CEO of AGMA Security Service, Toro knew his company could play a vital role in Puerto Rico’s rebirth.
But the skeptics questioned whether AGMA was equipped to beat out the 45 other companies competing for that FEMA contract. Further stacking the odds against AGMA was the simple fact that this would be the first time Toro’s firm pursued a federal government contract.
Those doubters, however, didn’t account for one crucial advantage AGMA had: the support of the Puerto Rico MBDA Business Center in San Juan.
“Many people told us not to go for [the contract] because we were a small company and were not going to make it,” Toro said through an interpreter. “They said, ‘Don’t waste your time.’ And MBDA told us, ‘Don’t worry, we’re going to help you. We’re going to help you through the process, so you can get the contract.’”
AGMA, with the help of the Puerto Rico MBDA Business Center staff, began its pursuit of the contract in late November and finished the proposal before Christmas. On April 2, AGMA received the good news that it won the bid, earning the $20 million job of providing surveillance to disaster recovery centers (DRC) throughout the island. AGMA’s work will ensure that the personnel working in DRC buildings will be able to handle sensitive information with guaranteed security, helping the island get back up and running as soon as possible.
As many of Toro’s counterparts predicted, however, the process of landing the FEMA contract wasn’t so simple. Step 1, as suggested by MBDA, was for AGMA to pursue certification in the 8(a) Business Development Program. Businesses that secure the 8(a) designation – firms that are owned and controlled at least 51 percent by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals – receive broad assistance that helps those entrepreneurs gain traction in government contracting.
Once that 8(a) certification was achieved, AGMA was ready to pursue the FEMA contract in earnest. Though Toro was daunted initially by the competition, 46 companies were quickly whittled down to just nine that met government regulations. FEMA trimmed an additional five companies – all deemed too large – from the list. And then it was down to AGMA and three others; only one of the four was 8(a) certified.
Toro is working now with Teresa Berrios, Executive Director of the Puerto Rico MBDA Business Center, on a new proposal for a government contract in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. With MBDA’s support and guidance, Toro is confident that AGMA is well-positioned for another win.
“We are working hand in hand with him,” Berrios said of Toro. “We need to create jobs in Puerto Rico. [AGMA] has the opportunity to create 675 new jobs. We need to get more contracts like that to provide services in Puerto Rico in order to develop our economy. And that is our main goal.”