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PhillyInc: Phila. company wins national SBA award

It seems odd for the U.S. Small Business Administration to hand out awards to big businesses just because they play well with small business.

It seems odd for the U.S. Small Business Administration to hand out awards to big businesses just because they play well with small business.

But if it wasn't for the Dwight D. Eisenhower Award for Excellence, the Philadelphia area wouldn't have any winners among the national awards issued during last week's National Small Business Week.

Amec Earth & Environmental Inc., of Plymouth Meeting, received the Eisenhower award in the services category. That office is part of Amec P.L.C., a London-based engineering and project-management company that had 2010 revenue of 2.95 billion pounds, or $4.5 billion.

So we're not dealing with a small business, but Joseph Farrell, small-business liaison officer with Amec, said his company uses lots of subcontractors that certainly do qualify as small firms. In fact, up to 50 percent of the dollars it spends on subcontractors on the federal contracts it receives goes to small business, he said.

That not only sounds good, it beats the federal goal of 23 percent of every contract dollar spent going toward small business, said SBA Region 3 regional administrator A. John Shoraka.

What is Amec doing differently?

For one thing, it has a Joe Farrell, who's been the small-business liaison for Amec since 2005. Because the company has been winning major federal prime contracts from nearly every branch of the U.S. military in recent years, there are strict requirements it must meet for small-business participation.

"Our commitment to small business goes beyond contract requirements," Farrell said. "We think our small-business partners will supply the best service to our clients. That's really been ingrained in our culture in the past few years."

To find those small businesses, Amec holds 20 to 30 outreach events annually seeking small firms that can supply all manner of services for its environmental and infrastructure projects. "If it can be set aside for small business, we're going to do it," Farrell said.

Part of his job is also to make sure that those small businesses really are what they say they are. "The federal government doesn't just take our word for it. They say, 'Show me the paperwork,' " Farrell said, meaning the required certifications.

What is now Amec's Philadelphia operations started out as Ogden Environmental & Energy Services Co. in the late 1970s. Ogden Corp. sold that business to Amec for $17.5 million in 2000.

Now, the Plymouth Meeting office of Amec has grown to a little more than 100 employees, including engineers, scientists, project managers, procurement professionals, cost schedulers, and support staff. All federal contracting programs are handled out of that office, Farrell said.

And Amec's business footprint will be getting bigger with last week's announcement that its parent company will acquire Mactec Inc., an Alpharetta, Ga., engineering and design firm with 2,600 employees, for $280 million.

Sounds like that means more work finding small-business subcontractors for Farrell.

Results are in

And now, a follow-up on some corporate-governance issues involving area companies last week.

Shareholders at Urban Outfitters Inc. turned down a proposal by two socially responsible investors who wanted the retailer to commit to including women and minority candidates when searching for new board members. Urban's seven-member board is all white and all male.

While 77 percent of the shares voted were against the shareholder proposal, backers were heartened that 23 percent of the votes cast by Urban Outfitters' shareholders supported it.

"We're happy with the message it sends to management there," said Aditi Mohapatra, senior sustainability analyst for Calvert Investment Management Inc.

A proxy fight involving Trevose-based Pulse Electronics Corp. more or less fizzled. Rival electronic-components-maker Bel Fuse Inc. had put forward two nominees to add some pressure after its unsolicited bid for Pulse.

Pulse said shareholders elected all of the board candidates nominated by the company. A preliminary count showed about 87 percent of shares cast in favor of Pulse people, the company said.

(The individual vote totals won't be released until they've been certified by an independent inspector of elections. That'll likely happen next week.)

For its part, Bel Fuse said that while it was "disappointed," those same results indicate that at least one of its director nominees was "narrowly defeated." The Jersey City company also reaffirmed its willingness to discuss a "business combination" with Pulse.

Finally, against the recommendation of the board of Aetna Inc., shareholders approved a proposal that would require the health insurer to have an independent chairman, rather than someone who is or has been a senior Aetna executive.

Right now, CEO Mark T. Bertolini also serves as Aetna board chairman.

That may change. In a statement, Aetna's board said that it "will consider the implications of the independent chairman vote at a future meeting this year."

See what comes from holding your annual shareholders meeting in Philadelphia? Independence breaks out all over.