By Brian Williams

The Miami-Dade County Public Schools Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO) has made significant strides over the past year and continues to encourage all small, women and minority firms to consider doing business with the nation’s fourth largest school district. Superintendent Albert Carvalho and the School Board of Miami-Dade County have placed a huge priority on providing such opportunities for the local business community.

Since its inception in April 2013, the OEO has certified more than 500 businesses in both construction and non-construction areas. Local black businesses represent 30 percent of these certifications. The benefits include a three-year certification period, mandatory small business subcontracting goals and contracts for only certified firms to compete against one another (sheltered markets). The school district has experienced great success with these initiatives.

Through overwhelming voter approval of the district’s $1.2 billion General Obligation Bond (GOB), several firms have been awarded multi-year contracts. This is significant because these firms – three of which are black-owned – have never done business with the district. They have been awarded projects worth up to $1 million each, while five additional black-owned businesses have been awarded projects worth up to $200,000 each, representing 42 percent of the total amount awarded.

The local firms are Nyarko Architects, Design2Form, IGWT Construction, Padron Construction, D2 Construction, Pioneer Construction Management, Daybreak Design, and Asset Builders LLC dba Messam Construction.

Recently, D. Stephenson Construction Inc. was ranked first as the prime contractor to build two schools with an approximately $6.62 million construction budget. Also noteworthy, all of the subcontractors on the D. Stephenson Construction team are African-American firms.

The goal of the OEO is to provide opportunities for businesses to build their capacity and ensure local residents are hired. OEO staff has worked diligently to revise many of our contracts to ensure that provisions related to local workforce goals to employ residents within a designated mile radius of each school during districtwide new construction and renovation projects are included.

In May, the district signed an historic agreement with the Miami-Dade Branch of the NAACP to increase the number of certified black businesses by 25 percent, resulting in capacity-building and increased spending among these firms. Currently, the district is on track to exceed this goal.

Similar agreements have been signed with the Florida Small Business Development Center Network and Hispanic Business Initiative Fund, providing technical assistance to local businesses and working to increase the number of certified firms. The Office of Economic Opportunity, bolstered by the leadership and support of the superintendent and the School Board, will continue to advocate for all businesses and provide the tools needed to make them successful.

Brian A. Williams is economic development officer for Miami-Dade County Public Schools, responsible for managing the Office of Economic Opportunity.