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Minority certification gives businesses a slight edge

PALMETTO — Mary Forristall saw the benefit years ago in certifying her Palmetto-based demolition company as a woman-owned enterprise.

That was 1994.

In the past three years, others have realized the value to their business, shown by the significant growth in how many Florida businesses receive certification as a minority, woman or service-disabled veteran business enterprise.

“The interest is at an all-time high,” said Torey Alston, executive director of the Office of Supplier Diversity, the state department that oversees economic opportunities for minority, women and service-disabled veteran businesses.

There are 5,038 certified minority businesses today in Florida, an increase from 4,118 in 2007-08 and 3,733 in 2006-07.

“One reason is probably due to the state of the economy,” Alston said. “Any designation or anything that can differentiate a business can help. Business owners are looking for that niche.”

Forristall says her state certification makes Forristall Enterprises Inc. more competitive for stimulus-related projects.

“We’ve had it for years, but it has become a real benefit under this current administration,” Forristall said. “A lot of federal stimulus dollars they’re trying to spend will be contracted with minority participation goals that are a little more aggressive than in the past.”

Minority certification is key for small businesses, because it gives them an advantage when trying to do business with government entities.

“Right now, in this economy, every little bit helps, which is why people are so focused right now,” said Eileen Rodriguez, director of the University of South Florida’s Small Business Development Center in Tampa. “We’re seeing companies that have been in business for years and were qualified but never really needed that extra little push. They’re just looking at any possible advantage to win a contract.”

The state’s minimum eligibility requirements for certification include:

n A small business independently owned and operated, with a net worth of not more than $5 million that employs 200 or fewer full-time permanent employees or is recognized as a certified business by the federal government.

n 51 percent owned, managed and controlled by a minority, a woman or service-disabled veteran (minimum 10% disability) who are U.S. citizens and permanent residents of Florida.

n Engaged in commercial transactions.

n Operates a business in Florida.

Kathy Durfee, founder and owner of TechHouse, certified her Lakewood Ranch business with the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council about six years ago. Durfee says the state certification has made her business more competitive.

“A team member in our business has quite a bit of experience working with government and sees a lot of potential for us,” Durfee said.

The benefits include referrals to state agencies, and participation in mentor programs, a loan mobilization program, conferences, tradeshows and educational courses or seminars.

“Business owners are seeing that certification as a stamp of approval and a designation that can set their business apart from other businesses,” Alston said.

The Gulf Coast Latin Chamber of Commerce is becoming a partner with USF’s Small Business Development Center on July 29 to host an information session on minority business certification.

Cesar Gomez, executive director of the Gulf Coast Latin Chamber of Commerce, expects the turnout to be similar to the last seminar hosted in March in which 73 business owners attended.

For information on how to apply for certification, visit http://dms.myflorida.com/ and click on Office of Supplier Diversity.

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