Differences in OMWBE Certifications [Updated]


Apex has blogged about the underutilized Washington Office of Minority and Women’s Business Enterprises (“OMWBE”) certification. The Secretary of State created the OMWBE Office in 2000. The OMWBE assists minority/women owned businesses to apply for enterprise certifications for the purpose of obtaining contracts with local governments. The OWMBE Office grants federal and state certifications to increase contracting opportunities for the certified businesses with government agencies. For example, the OMWBE’s Disadvantaged Business Enterprise certification levels the playing field by providing small businesses owned and controlled by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals a fair opportunity to compete for federally funded transportation contracts.

Since 2016, the office has exceeded its participation goal in  the program, awarding over $56 million dollars in contracts to minority and women owned enterprises. However, there are other programs, both public and private, that seek to certify businesses for purposes of obtaining government contracting opportunities.


While the OMWBE certification is like many other certification programs businesses, such as the SBA’s certification, the OMWBE Office’s certifications are primarily to increase contracting opportunities for certified businesses with state and local governments. Given the variety of certifications options available to businesses seeking to expand on opportunity, it is helpful to familiarize yourself with the different certification programs and what they mean. Below is a list of some of the different types of certifications:

  • The Federal Certification, known as the Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (“DBE”) certification, is a program of the US Department of Transportation. The purpose of these certifications to increase the participation of certified business on projects funded by the US Department of Transportation and other federal sectors. Projects typically include heavy construction, such as building and designing roads, bridges, railroads, ports, and airports. The DBE certification actually includes three different options for businesses:
    • The DBE for U.S. Dept. of Transportation contracts.
    • Airport Concession DBE (“ACDBE”) for U.S. Dept. of Transportation contracts involving airports.
    • The Small Business Enterprise (“SBE”), which is the gender and race neutral option of the small businesses seeking government contracting. Small businesses are defined as having a 3-year average gross annual receipts less than $26.29 million.
  • The State Certification serves the same purpose as the federal certification, but for state and local governments. The state certifications includes business enterprise options for:
    • Minority business enterprises (“MBE”) – Businesses that are majority owned by minority persons.
    • Women Business Enterprises (“WBE”) – Businesses that are majority owned by women.
    • Minority Women Business Enterprises (“MWBE”) – Businesses that are majority owned by minority women.
    • Socially and economically disadvantaged Business Enterprises (“SEDBE”) – Businesses that are majority owned by individuals falling below certain financial thresholds.


Recently, the OMWBE office has partnered with King County to create a fast-track for the Small Contractor and Supplier (SCS), which seeks to help certified minority and women-owned business in accessing the county’s procurement and bidding process and contracting opportunities.

Depending on specific business goals, applying for one of the several state or federal certifications will allow your business to gain access to exclusive government contracts. A business seeking certifications will submit detailed financial statements, proof of ownership documents, and if the applicant is married, evidence that a majority of interest is owned by the applicant spouse.


The OMWBE application process is designed to be a holistic process between the applicant and the OMWBE office. Therefore, applicants should expect a back-and-forth with an assigned OMWBE representative to ensure all proper documentation is in place.

This blog is for educational purposes only, and does not constitute legal advice. This article, or contacting Apex, does not in any way form an attorney-client relationship. Any business applying for certification should ensure the business has the appropriate ownership and operating documents in place. Speak to a licensed attorney to ensure your business is up to muster. If you have any questions or would like to learn more, please contact Coleman Scroggins at coleman@apexlg.com or visit our website.


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