Pinellas County officials implemented a program to promote small businesses just as the area began experiencing explosive growth; it is now exceeding expectations.
Corey McCaster, the county’s new division director for the office of small business and supplier diversity, repeatedly expressed his excitement to relay the Small Business Enterprise (SBE) program’s success to commissioners during Thursday’s work session. Now in its third year, 716 vendors registered to participate, exceeding the established goal by 119%.
McCaster said the program could not have come at a better time, given the recent escalation in redevelopment and new construction throughout Pinellas.
“It gave an opportunity to companies to be able to act on our commitment to making an environment that’s conducive to small businesses,” he said. “So, we’re really excited to have that environment where small businesses feel like they can access contracts with Pinellas County.”
The SBE program is undergoing exponential growth. In FY2020, participants received $17.994 million in contracts. That number surged to over $29 million during the last fiscal year and is up to $24.4 in 2022 thus far. While the latest numbers show a decline, McCaster noted that his department is awaiting more financial data for this year.
Dozens of county departments work closely with the SBE, said McCaster, and support the program by considering its vendors for projects. He said that number continues to grow, and those internal partners also participated in the annual “reverse trade show” and recurring matchmaking events.
“I’m excited to say that the program continues to produce favorable outcomes for the third consecutive year,” McCaster told commissioners.
He relayed that SBE participants received 93 “prime” contracts in 2022, a 30% increase. The total number of contracts going to area small businesses jumped from 232 to 297, a 28% improvement. “And we’re ecstatic about that,” he added.
Program officials, McCaster said, conducted 51% more SBE outreach events this year, and attendance was up 75%. He added that as the program continues to grow, so will internal and community outreach, which would further bolster its success.
“The more that we can touch base with partners and businesses in the community, the more we’re going to see participation in the program,” he explained. “And the team is really committed to that.”
McCaster recently became the SBE director after leaving Hillsborough County’s economic development department, where he focused on minority and small business development. Upon accepting his new role, McCaster said he emphasized tracking the average “goal on project,” or the percentage of money program participants would receive from the total award.
The industry average, said McCaster, is around 10%, and SBE companies received 11.6%. He relayed his enthusiasm for the accomplishment and said program officials plan to ensure it continues moving forward.
While the program focuses on Pinellas County, County Administrator Barry Burton noted companies participate in a regional database, an intentional aspect that increases opportunities. Cynthia Johnson, director of economic development, said it also allows the county to diversify its supply chain through neighboring counties’ departments and organizations.
“So, they can work here in Pinellas, or work in Pasco or work in Hillsborough (Counties),” said Commissioner Dave Eggers. “It’s all about better jobs.”
McCaster also showcased some of the program’s most significant success stories. On the private contracting side, RJP Enterprises, Inc. exceeded its goal as a partner and utilized SBEs on over 18% of its projects and awarded nearly $800,000. Manhattan Construction Group volunteered to use program participants, said McCaster, and paid out $653,065.
Small business highlights include Bayshore Construction winning a nearly $6 million competitive bid this year. Suncoast Development of Pinellas County received a five-year, $19 million contract.
“That’s called believability,” said Eggers. “People believing in the program.”