Transparency and job creation in sight through state procurement

June 8, 2011 No Comments by Raul Espinosa

The following was published in the Jacksonville The Business Journal

The Fairness in Procurement Alliance Think Tank at the University of North Florida claims the last legislative action of the Florida Legislature’s 2011 session, giving the governor the authority to consolidate economic development efforts, reduce state bureaucracy, eliminate duplicate services and abolish burdensome regulations, will strengthen the infrastructure that supports the 2.4 million small and minority businesses in the state.

The think tank will now ask the governor for tools to achieve the full cooperation of all 1,586 Florida public agencies — including the city of Jacksonville — that issue public contracts with taxpayers’ dollars at the state, county and municipal levels. The Umbrella Initiative, a program conceived by the FPA Think Tank, would establish a Procurement Portal to bring transparency and accountability to the state’s contracting functions, including the One Florida Initiative, introduced by former Gov. Jeb Bush.

One Florida was supposed to improve minority contracting in the state through a “race-neutral” scheme. Unfortunately, “race-neutral” schemes have never worked because, among other things, they do not address tracking of contracts.

The Umbrella Initiative would change all of that through a Procurement Portal that would consolidate all public procurements and essential contracting services, including registration, certification and tracking of contracts, thus saving the state, including the city of Jacksonville, millions in duplicate services.

The city of Jacksonville, by law, must undertake a disparity study, because the city’s efforts to contract with small businesses owned by disadvantaged groups, including women and veterans as well as minorities, are not tracked and there have been alleged disparities in its procurement process. The Umbrella Initiative was crafted to prevent disparities from taking place.

Most importantly, the initiative will permit the involvement of university professors and students in the promotion and support of innovation, entrepreneurship and teaming of small businesses in the community to help create jobs.

Another Umbrella Initiative project, the C.E.L. Project, is about retrofitting useless containers into computer labs for developing countries and shelters for the homeless and victims of natural disasters, as in Haiti.

I just returned from taking a think tank delegation to the Dominican Republic, where we received preliminary approval to establish a pilot project based on the C.E.L. model to bring multidisciplinary distance-learning education and trades to all rural schools in the country. The think tank must now negotiate for a Jacksonville site, such as the abandoned Ford plant, to stage the retrofitting of the containers, a whole new industry for Jacksonville.

The C.E.L. project stands to create a minimum of 300 jobs for Jacksonville inner-city youth. We are grateful to Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, who said, “The Umbrella Initiative offers actual solutions with measurable results to a state dilemma the governor intends to solve.”

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