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November 22, 2010

It was a big risk, but one that Antoinette Allocca had to take.

Following the old adage “follow the money,” Allocca shifted her company’s primary focus from the private sector to the public sector. The federal stimulus money being poured into the economy was too much for her to ignore.

As a result, Fairfield base Essential Data Corporation is headed for its biggest year yet. The company, which Allocca founded about 20 years ago, specializes in technical writing and consulting. Most of Allocca’s technical writers and sales staff – or engagement managers, as she calls them to work in offices within the markets they serve. She has people working for her in more than 50 locations throughout the U.S., including an office in Norwalk.

“The economic stimulus plan is helping us tremendously,” Allocca said from her Easton home office. “Money is being pumped into the public sector. The federal government is our best friend. I’ve never said that before.”

Allocca said there is help out there for small businesses. Being a woman-owned business opened even more doors for Essential Data Corporation, but the company’s latest certification will take that to the next level, Allocca said.

She found out this month that Essential Data Corporation has been certified by the U.S. Small Business Administration’s 8(a) Business Development Program. The certification makes her company eligible to receive 8(a) business contracts.

In other words: “It’s the gold seal,” Allocca said. “It’s the most exciting thing that’s happened to my business. We’re eligible for government set-asides, not just government goals. This certification levels the playing field for small businesses”

According to the Small Business Administration, the 8(a) program is to: “assist minority, women, and service-disabled veterans with set-aside contracts for federal projects”

“In the public sector the government enforces compliance and goals,” she said. “Those companies have to partner with diversity-owned businesses. Government contractors are exploding and business is thriving in that area.”

Allocca said it took her company a year and a half to receive the certification. She said she was ecstatic when she heard the news from company vice president Tom Walsh.

The certification will mean more work for her employees. That, she said, is what the economic stimulus plan was designed to do.

“As a small company grows, its people make more money and the economy as a whole improves,” she said.

By entering the public sector, Essential Data Corporation works with government agencies, military bases, government contractors, and public companies with government contracts, such as AT&T. She said there are upwards of 80 major government contractors and her company is targeting 25-30 of them.

She sensed that her business was beginning to slow in the private sector and last fall made the decision to jump into the public sector with both feet.

The public sector now accounts for 60 percent of Essential Data Corporation’s business.

“If I stayed in the private sector, we would have been going through the same tough times as everyone else,” she said.

The switch to the public sector started in 2006 for her company when two of her employees suggested the move. By 2007, the company had already closed a few public sector deals.

“I knew I was vulnerable. I was too heavy in the financial industry, so I wanted to go nationwide,” Allocca said. “All this started in 2006. If we started now, we’d be way behind. Timing in business is critical.”

She admits the public sector can be “painstaking” to work with, with endless paperwork and certifications to achieve. But she’s glad she changed the company’s focus.

“The economic recovery can’t start from the private sector. They don’t have money,” Allocca said. “The money has to come from somewhere. The answer is the government has to spend more. Eventually, it will come from the private sector again.”

The average length of a contract in the private sector, Allocca said, is less than one year. In the public sector, contracts last about five years.

“You have to learn more, but it’s a lot more stable,” said Mark Greenspan, Essential Data Corporation’s chief financial officer and Allocca’s husband.

The basic philosophy of the company will not change, however, said Greespan.

“We won’t let a job fail, ever,” Greenspan said. “We have a long track record of that.”

Technical writing is a burgeoning business, Allocca said because it transcends what the average person thinks the profession entails. Software manuals, disaster recovery plans, and Sarbanes-Oxley and HIPPA compliance reports usually require a technical writer. Healthcare reform would open even more doors for technical writers, she said.

“Technical developers usually don’t like to write and often don’t have time to write,” Allocca said. “Technical writing may not be a glamorous type of writing, but it’s necessary.”