Osceola County Moves to Diversify Its Business Partners

Jeannette Rivera-Lyles, Orlando Sentinel, March 29, 2009

Despite its demographics, Osceola County does not have a policy to ensure that it does business with companies that reflect the cultural diversity of the county’s taxpayers.

Osceola’s population is 39 percent Hispanic and 9 percent black, according to 2007 U.S. Census Bureau estimates.

The absence of such a policy has been a sore spot for years in the county’s relationship with minority business leaders, who say that without inclusion rules, it is very difficult to get the jobs. But that could soon change.

“Osceola needs a program that helps minority-owned, and small businesses in general, break through the circle of influence,” said Joseph E. Rodriguez, a Kissimmee-based road construction subcontractor. “These are people that have been in the business for a long time, who also use the same companies over and over.”

County Commission Chairman John Quiñones recently requested that the county’s legal staff develop a minority-inclusion policy.

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Kissimmee, Osceola’s largest city, also does not have a minority-inclusion policy. Orange County and Orlando have had policies in place for years.

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Some types of set-aside programs–which mandate a specific percentage of government contracts go to minority firms–are illegal. When creating policy, local governments must make sure their actions don’t constitute reverse discrimination. It is a fine line to walk, but one that could ultimately maximize Osceola’s chances to secure federal funding for myriad projects.

“Most federal programs require minority participation,” Quiñones said. “If we want the money, we have to be able to show the federal government that we can follow their policies.”

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