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STIMULUS SESSION DRAWS 150

The business owners attend a seminar at USF to find out how to secure government work.

William Dames owns a car detailing business in West Palm Beach. Glenn Clover works for a Lakeland engineering firm. Yvonne Fry is an IT consultant in Tampa. Ana Benitez is president of a Miami marketing firm.

All were among more than 150 people who attended a seminar at the University of South Florida on Saturday to learn how they could tap into President Barack Obama's $789 billion federal economic stimulus package.

More than $15 billion has been earmarked for Florida.

"With the economy how it is, we thought we should expand, and we thought government might be one of the opportunities out there," said Benitez, who has sold her marketing services to other businesses, such as Kmart and Univision, since founding her company 15 years ago. "You can't think of what you're doing today. You have to think of where your business will be tomorrow."

And the massive economic stimulus package, she said, prompted her to consider government contracts.

"This is not one big pot of money," Don Winstead, the special adviser to Gov. Charlie Crist on Florida's economic stimulus programs, told the crowd. "People thought it was one big pot of money and I had it."

Instead, there are hundreds of funding streams with unique requirements, he said.

Winstead advised business owners to visit Web sites to glean information on such things as contracts open for bidding, who already has contracts and might need subcontractors (www.fbo.gov) and federal grant opportunities (www.grants.gov).

"Visit, and visit often," he said of the state's stimulus Web site, www.flarecovery.com.

The seminar also included sessions with officials from state agencies that have stimulus money to distribute.

Dames already has a contract to clean cars used by the Department of Children and Families. He hoped to make contact with other Florida government departments that might need the same service. A retired military man, Dames said he learned Saturday that he can register as a veteran business owner to receive preference in government contracting.

Fry said she planned to meet with representatives of the departments of education and management as well as Florida's energy office.

"We've got some green things we can help people with," she said.

For Clover, a high point was learning how the federal stimulus money flows to local governments, which often hire his engineering firm for development projects. He believes that if he can help small cities and towns tap into federal money for projects now on hold due to shrinking property tax revenue, it might result in some work for him.

Marie Duboulay traveled from Palm Beach County for the seminar. She hasn't yet launched a business but wanted to see how the economic stimulus money is being spent in case she decides to do so. "There's a lot of money out there," she said. "You just have to do a lot of work to find it."

Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3401.

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