Tampa debates giving bidding preferences to local businesses

02/26/09 Mitch E. Perry
WMNF Drive-Time News Thursday | Listen to this entire show:

An effort to give local independent businesses in Tampa a boost by allowing them a preference to bid for city contracts was debated at the Tampa City Council today.

The discussion began with a presentation by Greg Spearman, the director of purchasing with the city of Tampa. He said that a year’s survey of contracts issued by the city showed that 82 percent of such contracts were awarded to businesses within the five-county Tampa Bay area.

Spearman laid out the pros and cons of giving local vendors preference. But several Council members questioned Spearman’s data, and even the city’s definition of what is a locally owned business.

As revealed by Gregory Hart with the city’s Small Minority Business Development Office, the definition includes big box retailers.

Councilman John Dingfelder inquired whether the city had monitored how such preferences for local businesses has worked in other localities in Florida.

Spearman said the only local government he’d spoken with are officials from Broward County, which established a 10 percent preference for local businesses. He said it had only been used roughly 10 times in the past few years. Dingfelder thought that high percentage could have skewed the results in Broward, and said whatever preference the city established would undoubtedly be much smaller than that.

City Councilman Charlie Miranda said he admires local businesses but wouldn’t want to give a preference since ultimately it would hurt local taxpayers.

Councilman Joseph Catano said as a local businessman himself, he knows the playing field is tilted for nationally based companies.

Ted Taub is an attorney who works in Tampa, supporting independent businesses. He proposed that the city give an 8 percent edge to local businesses, but said the city should at least review all of the current data available before coming to a decision.

Carla Jimenez runs Inkwood Bookstore in South Tampa. She serves on the national board of the American Independent Business Alliance. She argued fiercely that all economic analysis indicates that local businesses keep more money into the local community.

The Council then tried to decide where to go next in terms of crafting policy, leading Councilman Miranda to denounce those in support of a local preference of playing politics.

Ultimately, the Council opted to have Greg Spearman talk with various interested parties and come back before the Council in a few months.

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