The Florida Department of Transportation is wrapping up a series of workshops in Escambia County. The classes are designed to help small, minority-owned companies seeking to do business with FDOT.
The day-long sessions are being held on Fridays over a five-week period, ending March 3. They were available at no charge to companies already designated or wanting to be designated as Disadvantaged Business Enterprises or DBE’s.
As defined by the Florida Department of Transportation, a DBE has a majority ownership by one of more individuals who are both socially and economically disadvantaged, with limits on personal net worth (less than $1.32 M) and amount of money made over the previous three fiscal years (a gross of just under $24 M).
“Most of them come from the private industry and they all want to get into public work,” said Matthew Block, an instructor for the Construction Estimating Institute.
As a former FDOT contractor from the Miami area, Block has worked with his share of DBE’s, who generally want to pursue public work because the pot of money is bigger and the government pays on time.
“But, their biggest hurdle is they don’t understand what the bidding process is,” Block said. “More specifically, they don’t have knowledge of the workings of all the paperwork that comes with public work and all the nuances encountered.”
Over the past several weeks, Block has been leading the construction management workshops in Escambia County. He says there is a lot to learn over the five-day course, beginning with how to navigate the massive F-DOT website for online registration.
There’s instruction on marketing and website development, as well as bonding and financing.
A significant amount of time is spent on business plan development and the detail required for successful bids, which is a process that takes an average of 8-10 days to complete.
Additionally, the coursework covers basic estimating practices, including how to calculate labor costs efficiently, how to calculate all their equipment, and material or subcontractor costs for a job.
“So, when they get onto a job they can actually calculate their costs and they’re not guessing at numbers anymore,” said Block, adding that basic accounting principles help the business owners keep their accounting in check all the time.
“What Matt has taught us is a lot of common sense, a lot of things that he has learned, things to look out for in these DOT bids and to be thorough in your bidding,” said Matt Castellani, whose business involves excavating, hauling, clearing, demolition and grading work.
Also attending the workshops and trying to learn all he can about securing jobs with the FDOT is Rodney Jones. Jones owns and operates the commercial cleaning and lawn service company, New World Cleaning.
Jones also pointed to the focus on detail. “Not just going out, looking at the big things of the project, um, looking at some of the very small things because those are the things you’re most likely to overlook and it’ll cost you in the long run.”
Another important tip, said contractor Howard Steele, is to quickly eliminate jobs that are probably unattainable.
“Go through the solicitations and weed out the ones that just don’t look like you’re gonna be able to qualify for,” Steele said.
According to Block, identifying those jobs you’re most suited for can increase the probability of winning a bid from 1-in-30 to 1-in-10.
For clarification, the Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) program, is a federal program that applies only to the Florida Department of Transportation, while the Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) program applies to all state agencies and is administered by the Office of Supplier Diversity.
The FDOT minority incentive program was enacted to open the door to the smaller jobs on their various
road and bridge projects after the department found that some of the contractors didn’t have the ability to do that work or to sub-contract it out.
“So, after years of looking at some of that information and talking with our contractors and realizing there was a need, just kind of putting two-and-two together, it made sense to have the ability for these DBE’s to be educated on what opportunities are out there,” said FDOT Public Information Officer Ian Satter.
The FDOT requires approximately ten percent DBE participation for each project.
The main goal of the workshops is to help get eligible businesses in the pipeline, so they can bid on and secure contracts for FDOT projects primarily available in their region. The idea is to keep the work local, as much as possible. In this area, that includes the upcoming Pensacola Bay Bridge Replacement project, totaling just under $400 million. It gets underway this spring and is slated for completion in 2020.
Satter said there’s a lot of opportunity out there, “from accounting services to perhaps supplying the materials or supplies, working, and providing other materials for the project like steel or providing tools or contract services.”
Additionally, the department makes an effort to keep those local companies designated - or even pre-qualified - as Disadvantaged Business Enterprises in the loop by inviting them to network with contractors at a meeting held annually at the FDOT office in Milton.
The workshops, which conclude on Friday, provide a major step forward for these small businesses who want to work with the FDOT. And, instructor Matt Block says those who are really serious will be calling to take advantage of the technical assistance offered free-of-charge as a follow up.
“The ones who keep on, it never fails, they always get a contract and they always call us thanking us for it,” said Block, who expects to hear from two or three of the individuals in the Escambia County class to tell him they’ve landed a huge contract.