Approaching Zero: Black Business and Florida

Approaching Zero: Black Business and Florida

The administration of Florida Gov. Rick Scott, considered to be pro-business, isn’t completely transparent when it comes to measuring how much the state spends with Black-owned businesses. Is there something to hide?

by Daphne Taylor
Special to the NNPA from The Florida Courier

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Florida Governor Rick Scott’s administration isn’t making it easy to track the amount of Black business being done with the state of Florida.

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In an effort to report on the amount of state goods and services provided by Black businesses over the past three Florida gubernatorial administrations, the Florida Courier has learned that the current administration has made it difficult to get those numbers since Scott took office in 2011.

Lumped together
In the past, the information was readily available online through the state’s Office of Supplier Diversity (OSD).

Under Florida law, the Department of Management Service is required to “record and measure the use of certified minority business enterprises (MBEs) in state contracting,” according to OSD’s annual reports.

MBEs are designated as African-American, Hispanic-American, Asian-American, or Native American, and must be 51-percent owned, managed, or controlled by someone in one of these categories. The state also added service-disabled veteran-owned businesses as another separate designation.

Such businesses can have a net worth of not more than $5 million, employ less than 200 full-time employees, or be recognized as certified by the federal government.

Standard information
The info required annually by law from every state agency includes total expenditure by industry; dollar amount and percentage of contracts awarded by the agency or by its contractors; a statement and assessment of ‘good faith’ efforts to increase minority contracting; and a written MBE utilization plan.

For years, it was easy to determine just how much money was spent with Black businesses and other minority groups as separate entities. OSD’s website lists annual reports dating from 1999 (with the exception of an incomplete report in 2001) that gives exact amounts broken out by four expense categories: construction, architects and engineers, commodities, and contractual services.

The information was then divided by type of majority ownership: women, African-American, Hispanic-American, Asian-American, Native American.

Today, the minority groups are lumped together, making it impossible to ascertain how much Scott’s administration has spent specifically with Black-owned businesses.

In addition, the 2011 report – the latest one on file – provides no statistics on how much business each group was able to generate from the state. The report barely satisfies Florida law; no more and no less.

The required reports for 2012 and 2013 have yet to be filed.

Written request necessary
An OSD official informed the Florida Courier that a formal public documents request, as outlined by Florida Statutes, would be necessary to get a breakdown of business activity that the agency previously supplied for more than a decade as a matter of course, free of charge.

Florida Courier Publisher Charles W. Cherry II, a practicing lawyer, says that a formal public records request has already been submitted to OSD.

“It’s ridiculous that we even have to spend time asking somebody for this information,” Cherry said. “Florida usually sets the pace for governmental transparency, and it’s not like this information isn’t readily available. It’s already gathered by every state agency.

“We can’t prove that Gov. Scott and his people are hiding anything because we don’t know if Black-owned businesses are doing better or worse than under the previous administration – which just happens to be that of Charlie Crist, who may be Scott’s Democratic opponent.

“We could easily compare what these two GOP administrations have done with regard to doing business with Black entrepreneurs if we had complete information. I wonder what we will find?”

Not faring well?
“That’s tragic,” said Bill Diggs, former president and CEO of the Miami-Dade Chamber of Commerce. “That information should be available at the state level,” he said.

Diggs, now the president of the Mourning Family Foundation in Miami-Dade, doesn’t believe that Black businesses in the state of Florida are faring well under Scott.

“Unless small business is being embraced at the state level, there’s no way Black businesses are doing well in the state of Florida,” Diggs said. “There is not an office at the state level that advocates on behalf of Black businesses.”

Diggs said there needs to be set-asides in place in order for Black business to thrive with the state of Florida.

“Even in my own city, in Miami-Dade County, they recognized that without set-asides, Black businesses couldn’t thrive. The governor needs to re-invigorate Black businesses in Florida,” he added.

The numbers?
So how have Black businesses done under the past three Republican governors in the state of Florida?

During former Gov. Jeb Bush’s administration from 1999 to 2007, the amount of funds spent with Black businesses in the state generally rose. Black business activity peaked according to currently available state records in 2002, with almost a half-billion dollars in Black business activity at the state level.

But when former Governor Charlie Crist took office in 2007, the numbers declined. In 2010, the Florida Courier reported the numbers took an 80 percent decline spanning Bush’s and Crist’s administrations.

Noticed the drop
Black businesses, especially Black-owned media, took notice.

During the Crist administration, the now-inactive Florida Association of Black-Owned Media (FABOM), which included Black owners of radio, TV, newspaper, magazine and Internet companies throughout the state, met with Crist for a discussion on racial disparities, advertising, the Obama administration’s stimulus package and how it was to be spent in Florida, and politics.

The group then gave Crist examples of Florida state agencies whose Black business activity should increase, including the Departments of Transportation, Agriculture, Health, Education, and the Florida Lottery.

At the time, Crist spoke about drafting an executive order requiring agencies to utilize Black-owned businesses, and especially Black-owned media for advertising, marketing, and promotional activities. But there was no follow-up by either Crist or FABOM.

What are the current numbers?
Billed as the “jobs” governor, pledging 700,000 jobs in seven years, Scott has had little known contact with Black business owners around the state. Despite having a Black lieutenant governor, Jennifer Carroll, Scott hasn’t reached out to Black entrepreneurs to date.

Earlier this month, a meeting with the Florida Legislative Black Caucus was called off by Black lawmakers, with Caucus president Rep. Alan Williams saying it would essentially be “fruitless.” Scott said he was disappointed that Black lawmakers decided against the meeting.

How is Scott doing now when it comes to Black business? Until OSD responds to the Florida Courier’s public records request, the information necessary to analyze the current administration isn’t available – at least not to this newspaper.