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Public sector reaches out to minority and women-owned businesses

JEA representatives meet with a man attending the JSEB Procurement Summit this week.
JEA representatives meet with a man attending the JSEB Procurement Summit this week.

Jacksonville’s public sector is working to expand its vendor base amid the supply-chain crunch, by working with more minority and women-owned companies.

Nearly 90 businesses attended JEA’s JSEB Procurement Summit this week. Rita Scott, manager of the utility’s JSEB program, said the goal of the conference was to introduce public agencies to small and emerging companies.

Vendors stressed that the summit did not guarantee work, but it represented an opportunity to learn about the procurement process.

Tony Grant said meeting with and listening to JEA, as well as the city of Jacksonville, Jacksonville Port Authority, Jacksonville Aviation Authority, Duval County Public Schools and JTA, was an opportunity for minority and women-owned small businesses to get answers to questions that often take longer to answer.

Grant, and his wife, Sheila, founded TSG Construction, a Jacksonville-based general contracting firm, in 2007. In recent years, the company has diversified to handle home renovations, commercial contracting and public projects.

A number of public sector contracts on the horizon in Jacksonville will be opportunities for small and emerging businesses as well as minority and women-owned businesses.

The projects range from Duval County Public Schools rebuilding four schools as part of a half-cent sales tax passed in 2020 to JTA; to the city having more than $900 million in projects over the next three decades as part of a gas tax passed in 2021; to JEA having more than $182 million in its wastewater capital budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

“For me, it’s exciting,” Grant said. “I think I’m ready for it because we are building our team to that opportunity that’s out there. The team is ready for it. That’s been the blessing to this point: to be here now with the opportunities available.”

Grant said Jacksonville’s public sector has been in constant communication about procurement opportunities for businesses like his.

"So, the fact that we have them here, and they understand what are some of the challenges we have in getting to what they're looking to do for us, which is help the small and emerging businesses grow, I think it's the best part of what comes out of today,” Grant said.

This fall, JEA will ramp up its Supplier Diversity Program. Managing Director and CEO Jay Stowe said the program was launched in August, but the utility will expand it throughout the rest of the calendar year.

In addition to building a network of diverse suppliers and partnering those suppliers with other local businesses, JEA says the program will advocate on behalf of its diverse suppliers and encourage its other customers to work with them.

“What we want to be able to do is expand our view of how we’re serving a more diverse supplier base,” Stowe said. “(It’s) not even just locally. We use firms and companies that are outside of the Jacksonville area. We need to be more focused on how we support the community and economic development locally. But we also need to be aware of how we’re serving minority and women-owned businesses, veteran-owned businesses more broadly. We haven’t tracked that in the past. We think that we should track that, reach out to them and be part of a national conversation, not just a local conversation.”

Stowe said it was imperative to create the Supplier Diversity Program because there were vendors the utility works with who graduate from the small and emerging business program but are still owned and operated by underrepresented communities.

For business owners like the Grants, all they want is a chance to let their work speak for them.

“We can’t just say we deserve to have anything,” Tony Grant said. “We need to be ready. And, we need to do the work to be able to be afforded those opportunities.”