U.S. Rep. John Carney talks with BrightFields president Marian Young about the company's work on revitalization of the Wilmington Riverfront.

From brown to bright

PTAC helps environmental company shift gears after recession

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1:19 p.m., June 12, 2013--It took awhile for the recession to catch up with BrightFields, Inc., an environmental services company in Wilmington, Del.

Launched in 2003, BrightFields had a healthy backlog of business in 2008, much of it focused on transforming Wilmington’s waterfront from an industrial wasteland to a vital urban center.

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But by 2010, the company’s owners, Marian Young and Mark Lannan, realized that they would have to make some changes if BrightFields’ future was to match its name. One idea was to start seeking government contracts, and they turned to the Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) at the University of Delaware for help in that effort.

On Friday, June 7, U.S. Rep. John Carney (D-Del.) joined staff members from BrightFields and UD at the company’s site near the Port of Wilmington to learn more about PTAC’s role in helping BrightFields navigate the complex world of government contracting.

“I think we took advantage of every training program PTAC offers, from how to respond to RFPs to how to work with the Army Corps of Engineers,” said Young, who serves as company president. “We also received invaluable help in submitting our GSA application.”

GSA stands for the General Services Administration, a centralized authority for acquiring and managing federal resources. Through GSA “schedules,” the government can negotiate streamlined contracts with businesses that have been preapproved through a rigorous application process.

Young described a long and tedious process punctuated by rejections and requests for more information. But, she said, every time they felt like giving up, PTAC of Delaware director Juanita Beauford was there to coach and encourage. With her support, BrightFields was eventually approved for the GSA schedule covering environmental services.

From brownfield to BrightFields

The story of BrightFields begins in 2003, when Young and Lannan bought out the assets of WIK Associates.  They chose to build on Wilmington’s East Seventh Street Peninsula, where the Brandywine and Christina Rivers converge in Wilmington.  The company’s modern blue-roofed building is aptly situated on an old city landfill. 

“We knew that if we wanted to be respected as an environmental firm, we had to put our money where our mouth is,” Young said.  “It was hard work, but joy comes from seeing what can be built once a property has been cleaned up.” 

Beginning with just 12 employees, the company now employs almost 40 people, including nine graduates of the University of Delaware. On any given day, most are out in the field, remediating soil and groundwater, restoring streambanks, and cleaning up buildings contaminated with asbestos and lead.

UD is also among BrightFields’ clients. The University sought the company’s expertise in readying the site of the former Chrysler auto assembly plant in Newark, Del., for development into the Science, Technology and Advanced Research (STAR) Campus.

Collaborating for contracts

After hearing the BrightFields story, Carney noted that in the world of government purchasing, it’s very easy to turn to the same, familiar contractors over and over again.

“That’s why programs like PTAC are so important,” he said, “because they enable new companies to get in the mix. It’s great to see that you’ve built a successful business in partnership with a public program.” 

For David Weir, director of UD’s Office of Economic Innovation and Partnerships, the BrightFields-PTAC success story validates such alliances.

“OEIP is increasingly being viewed as a University-centered, statewide resource for small businesses,” he said. “Universities have an important role to play in the prosperity of the neighborhood, the state, and the region, so we’re very interested in working with companies like BrightFields.”

PTAC also taught the company’s owners how to develop some new partnerships of their own.

“We’ve learned a lot about matchmaking from PTAC,” Lannan said. “Now, we’re not only working as a subcontractor to larger companies but also looking to buy products and services from other small companies.” 

To Beauford, this is the true mark of success.  “It’s great to see BrightFields grow to the point where they can think about reaching back to help other small companies,” she said.

‘Delaware Procurement Expo and Matchmaking Event’

On Friday, June 14, PTAC will host a “Delaware Procurement Expo and Matchmaking Event” at the Chase Center on the Riverfront in Wilmington from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The workshop is a unique opportunity for small businesses to market their products and services through prescheduled one-on-one appointments with government agencies and large corporations. Click here to learn more and to register.

About PTAC

Congress created the Procurement Technical Assistance Program (PTAP) in 1985 to help businesses seeking to compete successfully in federal, state, and local government contracting. Funded through cooperative agreements between the Department of Defense and state and local entities, PTACs provide a range of expert services at little or no charge. Established in 1999, Delaware PTAC is one of 99 programs in the United States, operating in over 300 locations.  

The Delaware SBTDC and PTAC are units of the Office of Economic Innovation and Partnerships at UD. Since its formation in 2008, under the direction of former DuPont vice president for research and development David Weir, OEIP has worked with the state, Delaware Technology Park, and numerous researchers and companies in creating a culture where innovation and entrepreneurship can thrive in Delaware.

PTAC director Juanita Beauford was recently elected president of the nationwide Association of Procurement Technical Assistance Centers (APTAC).  Her duties include presiding at meetings, carrying out the policies and programs of APTAC, appointing special committees, and serving as chairman of the board of directors and presiding officer of the executive committee.

About BrightFields

BrightFields Inc. is an environmental consulting and remediation services firm with offices in Delaware, Pennsylvania, and Maryland. Certified as a woman-owned business in these three states and by the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council, BrightFields specializes in brownfield redevelopment; Phase I & II investigations; residential and commercial energy audits; soil and groundwater remediation; asbestos and lead services; underground storage tanks; environmental permitting, auditing and compliance; and stream bank restoration. The company and its employees have won a number of awards for their work.

Article by Diane Kukich

Photos by Doug Baker

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