Local firms losing local stimulus projects

MANATEE — Non-local firms recently outbid Manatee/Sarasota companies for some stimulus-funded transportation projects in Manatee County, and state officials say they have no power to steer those projects to local hands.

Of the low bids that the Florida Department of Transportation received Wednesday for four sidewalk projects, three were from companies outside Manatee and Sarasota counties. That means FDOT could hire a Polk County company to build sidewalks in Bradenton, without any requirement that the company hire local workers.

L-J Construction Co. of Central Florida, based in Polk City, was the apparent low bidder for the Bradenton sidewalk projects, FDOT records show. In both cases, a local company had the second-lowest bid between $6,000 and $13,000 higher than L-J Construction’s bid.

Local companies fared better in bidding for a pair of sidewalk projects in Holmes Beach, submitting the lowest bid on one and coming in second to a Jacksonville company on the other. However, the Jacksonville bid was incomplete and likely will be thrown out, FDOT officials said Thursday.

Local officials had urged FDOT to give preference to local firms in awarding stimulus projects where possible, something FDOT said it is prohibited from doing.

“We can’t show preference for locals,” spokeswoman Cindy Clemmons said. “We’re awarding tax-dollar projects to private firms, so the bidding process has to be extremely neutral and fair.”

State purchasing rules require state agencies to pick the lowest responsive bidder, regardless of where it’s from. So FDOT must award the Bradenton sidewalk jobs to L-J Construction if its bids are verified as acceptable, she said.

FDOT also can not require winning bidders to hire local workers. Instead, the agency encourages it through its disadvantaged-business program, Clemmons said.

Manatee County Commissioner Joe McClash said he understood FDOT’s position.

“We would be crying foul if our local contractors couldn’t get jobs in Jacksonville because of some local preference policy,” he said. “Still, there’s an economic benefit to Manatee County even if the contract awarded to a company from outside the county. Even though the companies are from outside the county, it isn’t unusual for them to hire some jobs locally.”

Calls to L-J Construction, based in Polk City, were not immediately returned Thursday.

The company bid $29,008 to install sidewalks along 27th Street West between 22nd and 23rd avenues west and along 23rd Avenue West between 26th and 27th streets west. It bid another $57,087 to build sidewalks along 21st Avenue West between 30th and 34th streets west and along 23rd Avenue West between 26th and 27th streets west.

Semper Fi Services LLC, based in Palmetto, was the lowest bidder for installing sidewalks along 85th Street from Gulf Drive to Marina Drive; Palm Drive between 66th and 85th streets; and Gulf Drive between 57th and 84th streets in Holmes Beach. Its bid was $26,317.

In the other Holmes Beach project, HS Concrete LLC’s bid of $2,358 will be deemed “irregular” and thrown out. The next-lowest bidder was McLeod Land Services Inc. in Sarasota, which bid $19,769 to install sidewalks along Holmes Boulevard between 54th and 66th streets.

Duane Marsteller, transportation/growth and development reporter, can be reached at 745-7080, ext. 2630.

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