After being laid off seven years ago, Juan Segarra started Foresight Construction Group in Gainesville. Growing to three offices across Florida, Segarra’s company won best minority business of the year in November, an award granted by the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce.

Foresight’s business manager Maritza Rovira-Forino said diversity was key to their economic success last year.

“We are Hispanic-owned…(but) what has given Foresight success is the reputation of a reliable, competent, performing company,” she said.

But on March 10 in the Gainesville City Commission’s Equal Opportunity Committee meeting, commissioners discussed the “D” grade the city received in January for minority economic development.

According to a report by the NAACP Florida State Conference, Gainesville did not meet the organization’s standards for equal demographic representation.
The 2015 Economic Development Report Card averages three categories on minority inclusion to produce grades from A to F.

While the city received an A in employment diversity, it scored two F’s in small and minority business spending and minority advertising and marketing.

According to the report, the grade scale was based on the 2010 U.S. Census results, which reported 25 percent of respondents were in minority groups and the remaining 75 percent were white.

The grading scale rated how equally the organizations’ spending matched up with the state’s demographics. With Florida’s 25 percent minority population, an organization would receive a mediocre C for allocating 25 percent of the selected budgets and employment to minorities.

None of the 10 cities selected for Florida’s first annual report earned an overall A, and seven out of 10 received a D or F.

Gainesville’s application to the NAACP study shows the city spent about $17.4 million on minority, women and veteran-owned companies during 2013-14. The total spent on minority-owned businesses in that period was about $3.1 million, which was about 18 percent of the budget.

Torey Alston, economic development chair for the NAACP Florida State Conference, said the goal of the report was to draw attention to the issues of inclusion and representation across the state.
The results of the report were discussed in the Equal Opportunity Committee’s February meeting. In the following meeting on March 10, Gainesville Regional Utilities and Skanska representatives presented their plans for improvement to the committee, among other city leaders.

City Commissioner Yvonne Hinson-Rawls said she saw two distinct problems that contributed to the low score.

One of the most obvious issues was an eliminated staff position in the city’s finance department that focused on outreach for small and minority business contracts.

Hinson-Rawls said the city also needs a stronger focus on providing mentorship and training programs to minority businesses.

The city had stronger diversity numbers in past years than showed up in the NAACP report, she said.

Gwendolyn Saffo, interim equal opportunity director of Gainesville’s Office of Equal Opportunity, said the city’s current outreach efforts span from small-business mentoring programs to biannual workshops for small and minority businesses.

“We will continue to do outreach activities and closely monitor (city) spending to try to get more vendors and contractors from the minority (businesses),” she said. “We’ll make even more of an effort than we have in the past.”

These programs are similar to the local mentorship program Gainesville’s minority business of the year, Foresight, utilized in its early development.

Faylene Welcome, director of UF’s small business & vendor diversity relations division, mentored Foresight’s founders many years ago.
Welcome said regardless of the report, the business environment in Gainesville is promising.

“We just recently came out of a downturn of the economy, and that affected businesses both large and small, minority and non-minority,” she said. “The opportunities are going to be more prevalent now than they were perhaps in the last four or five years.”

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