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How to Certify as a Disadvantaged Business Enterprise in PA

Deborah Gallant
February 22, 2024

You’ve decided to apply for certification as a minority-owned or women-owned businesses in Pennsylvania? Congratulations! There are a number of benefits for becoming a certified Disadvantaged Business Enterprises (DBEs). However, it does take some work to qualify.

Sue Broadus, who runs the DBE program for the Pittsburgh Regional Transit at the Port Authority of Allegheny County, walked us through essential information. Read through this article for details. And be sure to watch the full presentation for more need-to-know details!

Where to get certified as a DBE in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania has five certifying agencies that certify minority- and women-owned businesses as DBEs. PHL, SEPTA, PennDOT, Allegheny County, and Pittsburgh Regional Transit at the Port Authority of Allegheny County. The online portal for any of the sites will enable you to access the DBE application system; note, however, that some organizations may require a vendor information sheet to be completed prior to applying for certification and will redirect you to that form.

Pennsylvania DBE certification process

DBE certification is free and completed online. Once you have provided basic information about your business, you’ll be walked through the remaining, required documentation needed to certify. This is where things can get hairy. The online system also does include instruction manuals, labeled Part 1 and Part 2. Part 1 can be accessed from the initial application window by clicking Download the user manual from the Need Help? section. Part 2 is available during the application process.

What you’ll need for DBE certification:

  1. Completed certification application
  2. Notarized Affidavit of Certification for each owner 
  3. Notarized Personal Net Worth statement
  4. Other documents requested on the Uniform Certification Application “supporting documents” checklist. The list includes everything from updated resumes for all owners, officers, and key personnel; personal federal tax returns and business tax returns; a salary schedule, list of employees; leases; equipment owned; business formation documents; and more.

BTW, every state that certifies firms as DBEs has a similar process. If you're based outside of Pennsylvania but want to be certified in Pennsylvania, you must first obtain DBE certification in your home state. Once you have it, the certification process in Pennsylvania is much shorter, requiring you to fill out a two-page document and provide a copy of your home state’s approval letter.

DBE certification won’t guarantee contracts, but...

Certification doesn't guarantee that you'll qualify for contracts. To do business with organizations like the Port Authority, you must register as a vendor in their E-business system. You’ll find upcoming projects and information meetings on their solicitation page. Be sure to register for notifications. For more information about bidding on contracts as a DBE, watch this presentation.

Also, it's not a requirement to be certified before registering as a vendor, but being certified increases your chances of qualifying for bids and places your business in the statewide database, which can feel like free advertising.

Before you apply for certification …

Becoming a certified Disadvantaged Business Enterprises or DBE is a lot of work. Sue’s presentation covers details about all of the “other documents” you may need to provide, which she indicates is THE section that gives applicants the most problems. And please watch the presentation. It’s well worth an hour of your time and will provide you with insight you won't find anywhere else.

Can you certify as a Women’s Business Enterprise instead?

While the federal government reserves a percentage of contracts specifically for disadvantaged business enterprises, simply being certified as a Women's Business Enterprise (WBE) with WBE Council or as a minority contractor with the National Minority Suppliers Development Council, isn’t sufficient to qualify — you’ll need DBE certification, too. 

You can get this for free!

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