Today the company is worth about $15 million. But with no end in sight for the government shutdown, Ford fears that the business into which he put everything he had when he left corporate America 14 years ago could no longer exist in four to six months.
The shutdown also is hitting close to home: Ford's wife Tanya, a public affairs specialist for the Small Business Association only since May, has been furloughed.
Like many entrepreneurs operating in or near the nation's capital, the federal government is Ford's biggest and most lucrative client. Enlightened has contracts with the Department of Defense, Veterans Affairs and the Justice Department. In addition, Ford also has contracts with several state and local governments that also have been impacted because their funding comes from federal grants.
The shutdown has created a lot of uncertainty around prospective opportunities, making it "almost impossible to plan," Ford told BET.com. "And even if a contract has been funded, we can't do work because there's no government counterpart [at the agency] to approve the work."
There's also the human toll, Ford added.
"We've already had to lay off 10 employees. And today I have to say to more people, 'Thanks, you're doing a good job, but I have to furlough you,'" said Ford. "One of the values of being a business owner is being able to employ people, so this is very difficult."
Ford feels like congressional lawmakers aren't really considering the impact of their actions beyond the Capitol grounds.
"They've passed a retroactive bill for federal employees, but there is no back pay for business owners, just lost revenue," he said.
He also suspects that when the government reopens its doors, business owners like him may lose a lot of good employees and contractors who've lost faith in the government as a viable source of income.
Tanya Ford stayed up all night Sept. 30 awaiting news of whether the government would close. She was particularly anxious because she'd gone back to work six months ago after experiencing a reduction in force when she worked for the District of Columbia government. More recently, she took off several months to give some extra attention to her youngest child, a decision cemented by the fact that the funding for the district agency she was working for was so tenuous.
"When the government shut down, my initial thought was, 'They can't be serious.' I don't necessarily agree with all aspects of the Affordable Care Act, but once it becomes the law, then it's the law and this has been [so] since 2010," she said.
The Fords have three children, ages 17, 15 and 5. The oldest is in his senior year of high school, which means there are a lot of extras to pay for, including a class ring, senior activities and photos and, of course, college applications. He may have to "be all that he can be" and join the military, Ford joked, but Tanya's not laughing.
"This wasn't the best timing," she said, adding that not knowing when she'll see another paycheck makes it more difficult to manage the household expenses.
While her husband, who she says has an extraordinary work ethic, toils seven days a week, she is trying to figure out which bills to pay now and which can wait until the absolute last minute. And like her husband, she worries about the employees of his firm who've had to be let go, however temporarily.
"These are families just like ours and they have bills just like we do," Tanya said. "You feel for yourself and those who work for the company, which can create a high stress environment at home."
In addition to finding health care a ridiculous reason to shut down the government, she's also frustrated by how long it is taking lawmakers to come to an agreement.
"Once again, middle-class Americans and small businesses are carrying the bulk of the burden," Tanya said. "And people won't be able to buy any health care, affordable or not, if they don't have jobs."
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(Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
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