HANAHAN — Since 2011, the female-owned UEC Electronics has boosted its workforce by 49 percent to make complex components such as circuit-card and wire-harness assemblies for the defense, industrial and aerospace industries.
Today, the 17-year-old high-tech company headed by Rebecca Ufkes employs 194 people and has the potential for more growth as a result of changes to federal law passed in the waning hours of last year.
To trumpet the change and applaud the Charleston-area firm for keeping jobs in America at a time when manufacturers pursue cheap labor overseas, the head of the U.S. Small Business Administration came to South Carolina on Thursday to get a firsthand look at UEC's manufacturing operations.
“This is a real production operation that proves something,” SBA Administrator Karen G. Mills said. “Don't count American manufacturing out. Our small suppliers are one of our core assets.”
Of the SBA's job to provide access to resources and opportunity for job growth, Mills called it a win-win situation because it helps industries such as UEC generate innovative products for the government and commercial uses while it brings in revenue for small businesses that ripples through the economy.
To help women-owned small businesses, the National Defense Authorization Act of 2013 includes changes that allow greater access to federal contracts.
Changes were made to the SBA's Women-Owned Small Business Federal Contract Program, which include removing the anticipated award price of contract thresholds for women-owned and economically disadvantaged women-owned small businesses. The previous limits to the size of the contract for such businesses have been removed.
Prior to the new law, the anticipated award price of the contract for such businesses could not exceed $6.5 million for manufacturing contracts and $4 million for all other contracts.
The new law provides a more inclusive view of entrepreneurship and helps small businesses succeed, Mills.
Another change made to help businesses that deal with the federal government involved payment for services.
That change, implemented in late 2011 and championed by President Barack Obama, is called Quick Pay and it requires that the federal government pay companies that do business with the government within 15 days and not 30 days, Mills said.
The result is that cash is freed up by manufacturers to buy new materials faster and help stimulate the economy.
“It has been of great benefit,” Ufkes of UEC Electronics said. “We can plan better, and we know we are going to get paid. It provides better cash flow.”
The number of women-owned businesses in the United States grew 50 percent between 1999 and 2011, according to Jennet Robinson Alterman, executive director of the Center for Women in Charleston, where Mills visited before touring UEC.
South Carolina outpaced the nation during the same period, with the number of women-owned businesses growing by 64 percent, she said.
While accepting the SBA chief's acknowledgement for job creation, Ufkes also noted that the firm and the industry need more female engineers.
Of its estimated 30 engineers on staff, she said just two are women.
“Getting engineers is difficult and getting women engineers is more difficult,” she said.
Ufkes said she hopes young girls will consider engineering as a profession, because the field is wide open for them.
Reach Warren L. Wise at 937-5524 or twitter.com/warrenlancewise.
Editor's note: Earlier published versions of this story misspelled Jennet Robinson Alterman's name. The Post and Courier regrets the error.