Are local businesses at a disadvantage when bidding for city of Pensacola contracts? The latest controversy of whether the Pensacola International Airport should give its food services to national franchises or to restaurants that have a decidedly Pensacola flavor has brought that question to the forefront again.
Mayor Ashton Hayward came into office three years ago with a commitment to rebidding city contracts that have been held by the same vendors for years. Advertising was given to Tallahassee-based firm, The Zimmerman Agency. Auditing has been awarded to Mauldin & Jenkins of Atlanta, Ga.
Now Airport Director Greg Donovan, with the mayor’s approval, has recommended that food services be awarded to the OHM Concessions Group that includes Chick-fil-A, Einstein Bros. Bagels, Corona Beach House and Surf City Squeeze. The out-of-town group beat out the Creative Food Group that joined together the Pensacola-based Varona’s, The Fish House, Bagelheads and Pensacola Bay Brewery.
I like Robert de Varona’s quote in the daily newspaper, “When you are in an airport and see a Chick-fil-A, where are you? If you see a Fish House, you are in Pensacola. When you see a Bagelheads, you’re in Pensacola.”
But there is a bigger issue that the request for proposals and selection committees don’t take into account when they make their recommendations—the impact that local businesses have on their communities.
EW Bullock, the former marketing firm for the city, has spent countless hours helping non-profits like Pathways for Change, BRACE Youth Emergency Preparedness initiative and Gulf Coast Kids House. How much of the million dollars it was paid by the city did The Zimmerman Agency commit to help local charities? None.
The city’s former auditor, Saltmarsh Cleaveland & Gund, has staff and partners on the boards of many of the non-profits in this community—Pensacola Sports Association, Baptist Health Care Foundation and Pensacola Bay Area Impact 100. How many partners at Mauldin & Jenkins serve on local boards? None.
If you have participated in any of the local charity races, you have probably eaten bagels donated by Bagelheads. If you have attended a cultural event here, look at the program and you will most likely find the Varonas listed as supporters. The Fish House has helped not only local charities, but has helped market Pensacola nationally in Washington, DC and New York City.
The selection process needs to include in its grading system the commitment a business makes or is willing to make to the community. Otherwise, we may be saving a dollar, but hurting ourselves in the long run.