September 1, 2014

Around the State- Northwest- June 2001

Julie Bettinger | 6/1/2001
Building a HUB
Rural Washington County is growing its own through federal HUBZone contracts.

Tommy McDonald, mayor of Chipley in rural Washington County, is known for jumping in with both feet when he thinks it matters. When he decided in 1990 that the county needed a Wal-Mart, for example, McDonald flew unannounced to Bentonville, Ark., and talked his way into a meeting with company founder Sam Walton to make his case.

McDonald, who also is Washington County's chamber president and economic developer, says Wal-Mart added 300 jobs in his small town of 4,800 residents. The move didn't hurt local merchants, he says -- store owners credit Wal-Mart for bringing more shoppers to the region.

McDonald was just as aggressive when he learned about a little-known federal program called HUBZone that helps small businesses qualify to bid on government contracts. The HUBZone Act of 1997 requires federal agencies to set aside 2% of contracts for businesses in Historically Underutilized Business Zones (HUBZones). By 2003, the program will increase to 3% of contracts, with an estimated value of $6 billion nationwide.

Realizing the program's potential for Washington County's small companies, McDonald hired Tom Cooper, a retired Navy officer, to help local businesses become qualified contractors. "I've always believed that the best economic development you can get is to grow those businesses you've already got," says McDonald. "They're not taking their business to Latin America, and they're better than any industry you can bring in."

About 20% of the Florida businesses that are HUBZone-qualified are in Washington County. At least three businesses in Chipley have won contracts worth more than $500,000 since last year. Cooper, director of the HUBZone Business Opportunity Center, says he projects businesses in the Chipley area will get another $3 million to $4 million in contracts by the fall.

David Moss, president of Floor Coverings International in Chipley, says the federal contracts have increased his sales by 25%. Randy Morris Logging was awarded two contracts worth a total of $210,000. The company, with annual revenues of about $1.5 million, has hired four more employees -- with benefits -- to handle the extra business.

Cooper also monitors the region's military installations, trying to learn about upcoming contracts. When he sees an opportunity, he helps local businesses fill out the paperwork required to place a bid.

Despite the success, there are still roadblocks with the HUBZone program, McDonald says. "Getting your foot in the door is the hard part," he says. The military bases "don't trust us. They don't think we can do the work."

But when negotiations stall, McDonald doesn't hesitate to call on a higher power. U.S. Rep. Allen Boyd, D-Tallahassee, often runs interference for McDonald, most recently meeting with a purchasing officer for the Air Force to negotiate a contract worth $38 million.

As he proved during his unannounced visit with Walton, McDonald says the county's success with HUBZone is largely a matter of making the effort. "You never know until you try something," he says.

For more information on the HUBZone program, click here.

Julie Bettinger can be reached by e-mail at: julie@juliebettinger.com


In the News

Destin -- Destin was the last of nine municipalities in Okaloosa to endorse increasing the sales tax from 6% to 7%. Okaloosa County commissioners haven't officially endorsed the increase, which will require a referendum, but many commissioners have indicated support. The extra 1% would generate $133 million, which would fund infrastructure improvements.

Fort Walton Beach -- Manufacturing Technology, a design and engineering services company that serves the avionics and electronic systems industries, was awarded a $48-million contract by Warner Robins Air Logistics Center in Georgia.

Panama City -- Nextel Partners, a digital wireless communication services company, may be the first tenant in the new Beckrich Business Park. Nextel has signed a letter of intent to build a 65,000-sq.-ft. customer support facility, which will create up to 600 jobs. Hiring is expected to begin in the fourth quarter of this year.

Panhandle -- The Chipola Regional Workforce Development Planning Board has received a $370,000 grant to bring information technology training to rural Washington, Holmes and Liberty counties. The money will be used to help local community colleges and technical centers purchase equipment and train instructors in A-plus certification, MOUS, Microsoft Certified Systems and Novell engineering curriculum. The board is applying for a second grant to add Cisco Systems certification and Oracle training.

Centennial Healthcare Corp. of Atlanta is spinning off its hospital business, and a newly formed company, DasSee Community Health System, will be taking over three of Centennial's operations in northwest Florida. DasSee will assume ownership of George E. Weems Memorial in Apalachicola, Calhoun-Liberty Hospital in Blountstown and Gadsden Memorial Hospital in Quincy. The hospitals each have between 15 and 30 beds.

Pensacola -- West Corp. has opened a call center in the former First Data building in Marcus Pointe Commerce Park. The company, which provides customer service outsourcing for Fortune 500 companies, will hire 700 employees with an estimated annual payroll of $13 million. Chamber officials estimate the economic impact will be more than $20 million.

Ken Ford, director of the University of West Florida's Institute for Human and Machine Cognition, has been appointed to the board of supervisors of the Spaceport Florida Authority. Under Ford's direction, the IHMC was recently named one of the top research labs in the country. Prior to working with the IHMC, Ford developed and directed NASA's Center of Excellence for Information Technology and was associate director of NASA's AMES Research Center.

Tallahassee -- St. Joe Commercial started construction on a three-story, 90,000-sq.-ft. speculative office building on nine acres in the SouthWood development. The building, one of three the company expects to build, is scheduled for completion in early 2002.

Tags: Northwest

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