Categorized | Featured Articles, Management

Small business opportunity: Doing business with the city

By P. Douglas Filaroski     

Andy Harold always knew where he wanted to take his e-training company. Despite early questions about its own course, the city of Jacksonville’s Small and Emerging Business Program (JSEB) helped lead it down a successful road.jacksonville

Started about the time Mayor John Peyton’s JSEB program was launched, A. Harold and Associates in five years has grown into a $6-million company, with 34 employees. City work helped fuel that acceleration.

“There are just so many opportunities,” said Harold about the procurement program Peyton proposed to replace the city’s Small Business Enterprise/Small Disadvantaged Business program that was threatened by reverse discrimination lawsuits.

At first, there were doubts about the program’s ability to deliver work to women- and minority-owned business. But since its inception Peyton said the program has awarded $180 million in contract work and paid out $195 million to all small and start-up businesses. Of that, about 40% is going to African-American-owned companies, 30% to women-owned firms and 12% to businesses owned by Hispanics.

“The results of the program have been quite significant,” said Peyton, a former Gate Petroleum executive. “Small business is a big driver of our economy, and the JSEB model helps to grow and expand this important sector.”

Last year, the city awarded $83 million and paid out $92 million to certified businesses—a number expected to rise again this year, said Ivy Johnson, who oversees the program as chief of the city’s Equal Business Opportunity Office.

The list of certified businesses has reached 422, but is expected to continue to rise with companies hunting for work in a struggling economy, Johnson said. These days, the program is an important as ever for small business, which can be among the most vulnerable, she said. “The program was designed to create opportunity for small businesses.”

The certification process requires time, but is not that difficult, Johnson said. The basic criteria state that:

• A business owner or its headquarters reside in Duval County,

• The owner’s net worth doesn’t exceed $605,000, and

• The business’ annual revenues are less than $6 million.

The city offers JSEB-certified businesses help accessing capital through Essential Capital, formerly the Jacksonville Economic Development Commission. It also offers free training and education programs, including courses at Florida State College Jacksonville, on legal business structure, finance, accounting, and understanding the procurement process.

What certification means

Once certified, a business owner can bid for contracts advertised on city Web sites and posted on a city phone hotlines and bulletin boards. The city has placed links to bid advertisements by other government agencies on its site. City law requires performance bonds, but another JSEB program has helped dozens of companies receive bonding, and the city can waive the requirement on projects of less than $500,000.

“We have a wide gamut of projects, from geotechnical, to lawn mowing, to general contracting, to CPA services,” Procurement Division Chief Michael Clapsaddle said. Projects range from small to large for both goods and services. Small businesses can partner with large companies as subcontractors on big projects, such as the upcoming county courthouse construction project that will include goals for JSEB-qualified small business participation.

A partnership is how Harold’s company got its start. It became certified and bid on a contract. It failed to win the contract, but it teamed up with a larger company that won the bid to provide services for a portion of the larger company’s project.

Harold, an African-American who was named this year’s “Entrepreneur of the Year” at the 17th Annual Small Business Celebration co-sponsored by the Small Business Development Center at the University of North Florida and First Coast WorkSource Development, encouraged business owners to learn details of the program so they can position their companies for work.

Harold attended a city vendor fair, met the city’s chief of training, and stood watch over the bidding process. When he saw a larger company with lower costs had bid, he offered that company, Skillsoft, a partnership, and accepted a deal to be brought onto the project.

“I think the biggest thing is you have to establish a relationship with your customer [the city],” he said.

Ruth Murr, who owns Printing Edge, took it a step further. Murr became JSEB-certified and took advantage of the city’s referral to other government agencies seeking requests for proposals. She, too, did not land a contract but partnered with public relations firm Robin Shepherd Group to produce brochures for Duval County Schools and, with engineering/design firm Edwards and Kelcey, to print materials for a Jacksonville Transportation Authority road project.

“It’s really been extremely beneficially for us,” Murr said.



5 Lessons learned by small business owners

1. Get on the list. Sounds simple, but many small-business owners don’t make the time to qualify for the Jacksonville Small and Emerging Business Program. Here’s the link to the program’s Web site,, where you can find a link to the application form.

2. Keep an eye on bidding opportunities. The city publishes each bidding opportunity on the JSEB Web site. Recently it began providing a link on the same page to bidding opportunities of related quasi-city government agencies, such as JEA. You can also call 904-630-BIDS.

3. Keep an eye on bidders. If you don’t win a contact—or if you don’t qualify even to bid—you may find opportunities to partner with winning bidders. So, again, watch the process, and consider contacting companies participating in the process.

4. Market yourself. Network with others on the list. Attend JSEB trade shows held by the city, JEA, and others offering contracts, such as Duval County Schools, the Jacksonville Transportation Authority (JTA), and Jacksonville Port Authority. In addition to what you know, it’s also who you know.

5. Educate yourself. In addition to learning the process, attend education programs held by JSEB at Florida State College, formerly FCCJ. Officials with the program conduct sessions on accessing capital, managing paperwork, and preparing financials. They like to see small business owners they are going to hire get involved in improving their business practices.



Key Web sites

• City of Jacksonville, Equal Business Opportunity. Oversees certification through JSEB program;; 904-630-0969 or 630-1165.

• City of Jacksonville, Procurement Division. Oversees bidding process; For suppliers of commodities, 904-630-1184; or for professional services, 630-1297.

• Vendor lists. For information on current qualified and disqualified vendors;

• Bidding opportunities. For information on successful recipients of various types of bids, including professional services and capital improvements;

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