Small businesses near Grand Forks and across the state continue to benefit from contracts awarded by Grand Forks Air Force Base.

For the fiscal year 2020, the contracting squadron at Grand Forks Air Force Base awarded $32,381,902 in contracts to businesses that fall into a variety of categories approved by the Secretary of the Air Force. GFAFB ranked second in the Air Combat Command, a group of 14 Air Force bases, in awarding contracts to small businesses, and first in contracts for women-owned small businesses.

“It's pumping money right back into the economy, and that's a good way to do it,” said Graham Pritchett, a contracting officer at GFAFB.

Awarding contracts to small businesses serves the purposes of helping to grow both the local and national economies as well as expanding the pool of vendors for the Air Force, while increasing competitiveness. Pritchett said it’s a lesson learned from history.

“They found out during World War II that you don't want to put all your eggs in one basket,” he said. “You want to try and diversify that vendor base, and that's a good thing to do and small business is a big part of that.”

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According to Pritchett, the Air Force will give contracts to larger businesses, depending on the specialized nature of the work involved, but even so, on-site workers are usually made up of local residents -- still a “win-win” for local economies.

For contracts of less than $250,000, the Air Force must prioritize small businesses, though that number can fluctuate depending on the number of offers. Over that amount, the goal is to award contracts to companies in different socio-economic categories, including small disadvantaged businesses, which are generally owned by socially or economically disadvantaged people, or service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses.

“With the small companies, especially in this local area, that's a good shot in the arm for the base and the community,” Pritchett said.

Emerado-based Berger Enterprises receives half a million dollars annually to perform snow and ice removal services at the base. According to Major Justin Schneider, the work takes on a measure of importance beyond merely keeping the roads clear.

“We've got a flying mission that's occurring 24/seven, and so the access for those pilots to get out to their facilities is critical for us,” Schneider said.

Other businesses in the region that were awarded contracts include:

- -- Countrywide Sanitation, to perform refuse collection and recycling services at Cavalier Air Force Station, for $88,000 annually.

-- LePier Oil, in Fosston, Minnesota, gets $185,000 per year to do oil and water separator maintenance and inspection services.

-- Grand Forks-based United Crane and Excavation received $2.16 million to perform base and airfield pavement repair projects.

Of the $32.38 million in contracts, virtually all of the funds went to small businesses, the definition of which varies widely sector by sector, within tolerances for number of employees and annual income, set by the U.S. Small Business Administration. Within that figure, $23.8 million went to small disadvantaged businesses, and $13.37 million went to woman-owned small businesses.

Those categories can overlap when, for instance, a non-white or economically disadvantaged woman owns a small business, which is why the value of the contracts awarded to businesses in those categories is greater than the sum total the Air Force spent on Grand Forks-area contracts.