TAMPA — The Mitt Romney campaign offered up an inspirational tale of two local companies Wednesday as a way to cast President Barack Obama as an out-of-touch, big government apologist who doesn't understand how business works.
One problem: The facts about the companies in many ways contradicted Romney's point.
The campaign held a morning event to highlight A.D. Morgan Corp. and Value Enterprise Solutions as Florida small businesses that became successful because of the pluck of their owners and the benefits of the free enterprise system.
Government, in other words, had nothing to do with it.
But the Romney campaign couldn't have picked more puzzling examples. Far from not needing big government, the Tampa companies have embraced government and benefited from it.
According to its website, A.D. Morgan — a construction firm — has received at least $150 million since 1999 for work on government buildings, prisons, schools and libraries. The figure represents only the total from the fraction of news releases that included a dollar figure. The company lists more than 130 projects that it has completed; nearly all of them are in the public sector.
Value Enterprise Solutions —an information technology company — boasts strong government bona fides, as well. Its Facebook page describes the company as "providing value added service/education to business, local government, federal government, Department of Defense and industry contract organizations." The Facebook page also describes the company as a "minority/service disabled veteran owned small disadvantaged business." That's a designation that gives companies a special status, so in some cases they can be a lone bidder on a project. But that designation is recognized by government, not the private sector.
Despite that dependence on government largesse, the companies' owners dismissed the role of government in their businesses.
"None at all," said Value Enterprise's owner, Lou Ramos, when asked if government played a role in the success of his company.
The 30-minute news conference was intended to highlight comments Obama made during a July 13 speech in Roanoke, Va.
During his speech, Obama spoke about how even the most successful business owners didn't make it alone, that they were helped by others, including in some cases those in government.
But the Romney campaign is stressing one part of that speech, including a line where Obama stated, "If you've got a business, you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen." Taken alone, that might mean Obama is refusing to award credit to business owners. When the entire section of the speech is included, it's obvious what Obama's point is.
"When we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together," Obama said at the same Virginia event.
To respond to Republican attacks, Obama's campaign began airing a new TV ad this week in the battleground states of Virginia, North Carolina, Ohio, Iowa and Nevada, saying the "you didn't build that" comment was taken out of context.
Romney and Republican surrogates, however, show no signs of dropping the issue.
On Wednesday, the campaign held 24 events in swing states, during which business owners denounced Obama for being hostile to small enterprise.
Ramos, and Rebecca Smith, owner of A.D. Morgan, told sympathetic stories of how they started their companies.
Smith, 52, described starting her company 24 years ago as a divorcee with no money except for a $10,000 loan from her dad, which she soon paid back.
Ramos, 64, was in the Air Force for 24 years before starting his own company in 2008. He has only three employees, works out of his home, and struggles every two weeks to make payroll.
Both business owners, who are registered Republicans, said they were personally insulted by Obama's comments.
"I was asked the other day on whether I feel government doesn't support business," Smith said. "And I think that the answer really is resounding. Not only does (Obama) seem not to understand business, and he doesn't seem to want to accord the business leadership with the credit of making the choice to lead and risk in starting a business, I would go one step further and say that our president seems to oppose the success of small business."
"My oldest daughter owns her small business, and she's been struggling and doing very, very well, no thanks to a government handout," Ramos said. "Therefore we were personally insulted that our president would make the comment that the government is responsible for our success."
Smith did acknowledge that much of her work is government related. But she said that's only because her company doesn't bid much on private work because of the way the private sector awards jobs: lowest bid possible. Still, she declined to characterize that as government work.
"We benefit from the need for quality construction funded by taxpayer dollars," Smith said.
As for Obama's speech that they both strongly objected to, neither one saw it.
Ramos said he later read a full transcript of the speech. Smith said she didn't see it, only news reports on what was said.
"What becomes real in our nation is what people digest," Smith said. "So if I want to react to what's real, and I didn't hear a conversation that occurred on the corner of Fifth and Main between two astute minds, does that mean I'm not able to address the idea, the overall intent of the conversation? I think not."
Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Michael Van Sickler can be reached at (813) 226-3401 or [email protected]