Driscoll sets sights; push continues for new minority business procurement policies

Above: Gina Driscoll and predecessor Karl Nurse (District 6 Councilmembers); photo by

The quest to overhaul local government minority business policies continues today, when St. Petersburg City Councilmember Gina Driscoll (District 6) introduces a new business item proposing that City staff “develop an Action Plan to address the inequity in contracts awarded through the city’s Small Business Enterprise Program.”

The move follows a recent report that showed what Driscoll calls “strikingly low” procurement figures for black-owned businesses especially.

The City has created a dozen new small business programs in recent years, revving up training and capital access points for minority entrepreneurs.

Last year, Driscoll’s predecessor Karl Nurse worked with City staff to spearhead the establishment of heightened goals for small business procurement by the City. A new ordinance passed in the fall of 2017 set a goal of 8% in 2017, 10% in 2018, 12% in 2019 and 14% by 2020.

City staff surpassed the 8% target last year, when 8.6% of city procurement was spent with registered small business enterprises (SBEs).

But less than 1% of the $10.3 million City spend with SBEs in 2017 went to African American-owned firms (three contracts totaling $20,000), according to a March 8th memo by Driscoll.

“In comparison, 19 contracts totaling $4.2 million were awarded to Women Business Enterprises (WBEs) while four contracts totaling $474,000 were awarded to Hispanic Business Enterprises (HBEs). The majority of the remaining 55 SBE contracts totaling $5.6 million were awarded to businesses owned by white males.”

Driscoll says it’s a reality that she aims to help change “with actionable steps towards inclusion and equity.”

She isn’t alone in the push. Jessica Eilerman, the City’s Small Business Liaison is one of the staff empowered by Mayor Rick Kriseman to change the status quo.

“It’s a priority for the Mayor that we grow the impact of city’s procurement programs for small and minority companies,” Eilerman says.

She and others (including Pastor Claude Williams, prior to his passing) were tasked with overhauling the City’s administrative policies in tandem with ordinance changes, and with drafting specifications for the conduct of a disparity study.

The latter will enable the City to return to the practice of targeted goal-setting and procurement among minority and women-owned firms – a practice abandoned in 2001.

Eilerman notes that the City has already seen tremendous progress in engaging and training more minority firms but stresses the need for a disparity study to provide the legal basis and data needed to set specific goals.

The disparity study could be underway this year, if approved by City Council. The matter is currently under review by the Budget, Finance & Taxation Committee – the same body set to take-up Driscoll’s request for an action plan, if her ask is approved by Council at their 3 pm meeting today.

Action this week at County level too

In related news, this past Tuesday, Pinellas County Commissioners completed their second work session to overhaul the county’s small business purchasing policies.

Commission Chairman Ken Welch says “We confirmed at yesterday’s meeting that new policies and action steps will begin immediately toward more diverse business outreach and procurement by the County.”

The county’s economic development chief Mike Meidel noted in his remarks at the meeting that he will begin work this month with a consultant to identify the parameters of policy and staffing changes.

Get connected to City & County efforts to grow small business procurement

Click here for more information on Driscoll’s request for an action plan: visit see page 161 of the City Council’s March 15th Meeting Package.

Click here for details on how to become a registered Small Business Enterprise with the City of St. Petersburg.

Click here for the latest City of St. Petersburg report on SBE procurement (which includes a one-page summary of the history of minority and small business purchasing policies).

Click here for details on how to take part in Pinellas County’s Small Business Enterprise (SBE) program.


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