The Tampa City Council rejected a proposal today that would have given local businesses preference in bidding for city contracts. The proposal was intended to give local businesses a leg up in the bidding process, but many state-wide construction companies opposed the idea, saying that it might discourage competition.
Gregory Spearman is the director of the City of Tampa purchasing department. He defined a regional preference as a policy or ordinance which imposes legislative requirements on the public bidding process in favor of contracts with local vendors. The council considered bid matching as a means to support local business.
An editorial in today’s Tampa Tribune warned that the local vendor priority might raise prices and suppress competition. Spearman agreed with the suggestion to avoid local preference, saying that construction companies should be excluded from the proposal.
Councilmember Linda Saul-Sena challenged the idea that matching the lowest bid would cost the city more, or even decrease competition.
Councilmember John Dingfelder raised several concerns. For instance he said that a so-called local business might actually be representing an out of state corporation. He was also skeptical of Spearman’s claim that 76% of contracts go to companies in surrounding counties, citing millions of city dollars that already go out of state.
Councilmember Mary Mulhern claimed that for every dollar spent locally, three times that amount comes back into the economy. She asked Spearman if he had done any research to show this. When Spearman admitted to not doing any such research, Mulhern suggested that more can be done to support local businesses such as using best value purchasing.
Multinational construction corporation Skanska claims that supporting local vendors is bad for their business.
Ellen Brown is with the Old Tampa Book Company and is a member of the Tampa Independent Business Alliance, and defended the proposal.
Lisa Montelione has a local construction company, and clarified what makes a truly local business.
Dingfelder surprised some council members by voting against local preference, fearing that it might stifle competition.
Saul-Sena said that Dingfelder’s proposal was hasty, and might even be overstepping the City’s legal boundaries.
The City Council voted 5-2 to reject the amendment. Dingfelder took it a step further with his proposal to support the effort to eliminate local vender preferences statewide. Some counties that might be affected by the Tallahassee proposal include Miami-Dade, Martin, Indian River and Manatee County.