Small businesses awarded 297 contracts worth $24.4 million • St. Pete Catalyst

Pinellas County officials implemented a small business promotion program as the area experienced explosive growth; it now exceeds expectations.

Corey McCaster, the district’s new department head for the Office of Small Business and Supplier Diversity, repeatedly expressed his excitement at sharing the success of the Small Business Enterprise (SBE) program with the commissioners during Thursday’s working session. Now in its third year, 716 vendors have registered to participate, exceeding the set target by 119%.

McCaster said the program couldn’t have come at a better time given the recent escalation in redevelopment and new construction across Pinellas.

“It gave companies an opportunity to deliver on our commitment to creating an environment conducive to small business,” he said. “So we’re very excited about this environment where small businesses feel like they have access to Pinellas County contracts.”

The SBE program is experiencing exponential growth. In fiscal 2020, participants received $17.994 million in contracts. That number rose to over $29 million last fiscal year and is up to $24.4 in 2022 so far. While the latest numbers show a decline, McCaster noted his department expects more financial data this year.

The discrepancy between bonuses and payments, McCaster explained, stems from contractual details. He is also awaiting further financial data for 2022. Screenshot.

Dozens of county offices are working closely with the SBE, McCaster said, supporting the program by considering their vendors for projects. He said the number continues to grow, and these internal partners also attended the annual “reverse trade show” and recurring matchmaking events.

“I am pleased to report that the program is delivering positive results for the third consecutive year,” McCaster told the commissioners.

He shared that SBE participants received 93 Prime contracts in 2022, a 30% increase. The total number of small business contracts in the region increased from 232 to 297, a 28% improvement. “And we’re excited about that,” he added.

According to McCaster, program executives hosted 51% more SBE events this year and attendance increased by 75%. He added that as the program continues to grow, so will internal and community outreach, further fueling its success.

“The more we can connect with partners and businesses in the community, the more we will participate in the program,” he explained. “And the team is really committed to that.”

McCaster recently became SBE director after leaving Hillsborough County’s economic development division, where he focused on minority and small business development. Upon accepting his new role, McCaster said he stressed that he would like to track the average “project goal,” or the percentage of money that participants in the program would receive from the total bounty.

The industry average is about 10%, according to McCaster, and SBE companies got 11.6%. Passing on his enthusiasm for the achievement, he said program officials plan to ensure it continues to move forward.

While the program is focused on Pinellas County, County Administrator Barry Burton noted that companies participate in a regional database, an intentional aspect that increases opportunities. Economic development director Cynthia Johnson said it also allows the county to diversify its supply chain through neighboring counties’ departments and organizations.

A graphic with SBE partners. Screenshot.

“So you can work here in Pinellas or in Pasco or in Hillsborough (counties),” Commissioner Dave Eggers said. “It’s about better jobs.”

McCaster also presented some of the program’s most notable success stories. On the private contract side, RJP Enterprises, Inc. exceeded its goal as a partner, using SBEs on over 18% of its projects and awarding nearly $800,000. Manhattan Construction Group volunteered to use program participants, McCaster said, and paid out $653,065.

Small business highlights include Bayshore Construction winning a nearly $6 million tender this year. Suncoast Development of Pinellas County was awarded a five-year, $19 million contract.

“That’s called credibility,” said Eggers. “People who believe in the program.”

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