TAMPA — By the start of 2020, Robyn Donaldson, 51, owner of Renew Construction Services, had secured janitorial contracts with clients as large as the Tampa Convention Center that were helping her to grow her business.
As COVID-19 spread last year, she was able to transition her post-construction cleaning and janitorial firm to specialize in sanitation measures she could provide clients to help protect them from the coronavirus.
Then the Super Bowl came to town.
Through the Super Bowl 55 Business Connect program, organized by the National Football League and the Tampa Bay Super Bowl Host Committee, Donaldson secured a $120,000 contract from another vendor to handle cleaning and staging for the Super Bowl Experience, an interactive fan attraction held in downtown Tampa in the days leading up to the game, and obtained an additional $80,000 in contracts for cleaning up after mansion parties and providing staff to man booths set up at hotels to sell NFL merchandise, she said.
The program connects minority-owned businesses in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties to professional development, networking and contract opportunities brought by the big game. It received more than 1,200 applications between November 2019 and March 2020, said LaKendria Robinson, director of the program and community outreach for the Tampa Bay Super Bowl Host Committee, which is made up of local community leaders.
Of those, more than 200 were selected and granted access to online workshops and networking retooled this year to also address how businesses could bolster themselves against the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Robinson said.
While the number of contracts awarded this year won’t be known until after the Super Bowl, Robinson said there could be fewer this year as the coronavirus pandemic cancelled or postponed many in-person events.
Some vendors, such as Donaldson, have found immediate success from their participation. Donaldson spoke with the Tampa Bay Times about her business and her experience with the Business Connect program. The interview has been edited for clarity and length.
What sets your business apart from your competitors?
I am really focused on the community in which I serve, which is east Tampa. And that is where most, if not all, of my employees come from. I’m paying them $13 to $16 an hour, and they’re getting 40-plus hours.
Also Renew Construction Services is not just a job. We provide a lot of wraparound services, because being in the business, I understand that I may have the contract, but my employees may have a problem with parking or they don’t have cars.
So I partnered with nonprofit organizations to get discounted bus passes. We’ve partnered with agencies such as Suncoast Credit Union and United Way for them to offer banking, because my employees don’t have an account. And these check cashers, they tend to rip them off. So it’s not just an opportunity to work, it’s an opportunity to improve yourself.
And then also, there’s room for advancement. The same way that I started my cleaning service, there’s been others who have expressed interest in starting. So now they’re in management positions. They started out cleaning at the convention center, and now they moved up to supervisory positions.
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How has the coronavirus pandemic impacted your business?
As soon as COVID hit, everything shut down. I had to lay off like 25 people.
I partnered with OHC. They are environmental engineers and industrial hygienists. And I and a couple of my employees, I had us trained — certified as COVID technicians. That’s how I was able to pivot and how I started soliciting for fogging (a disinfectant method to kill COVID-19). And as a result, I’ve been able to receive contracts to fog schools.
So I took a little hit, but I was able to bounce like a ground ball. With one of the schools that we are fogging, we now have the facility maintenance contract for that school. So now we’re providing the daily cleaning, the fogging, the air conditioning maintenance and landscaping.
Honestly, COVID-19 just allowed me to stretch myself.
How did you learn about the Business Connect program, and what was the application process like?
LaKendria — I’ve always followed what she was doing in the community — and she sent me the link. She said, you need to sign up for it. You’re doing good work in the community.
And I applied. I sent in all of the documentation. I really didn’t think I was going to get picked, being that there were so many other janitorial firms locally that are doing bigger and better things than I’ve been doing. And I got the invitation, and it just really changed my life.
The application process wasn’t that intense. They were asking me for information about the business, any references, and I had all of that in a ZIP file. But they want to make sure that you are financially stable. They will really, really, really look into those references, and the ability to perform at the level of the request for proposal. Because of work in the Convention Center, which has gotten a renewal, and then providing cleaning services for large event halls, like in Orlando after concerts, I had all of the references that were needed.
What longer term impact do you hope for from your work with the Super Bowl?
It’s not what I hope, it’s what it’s doing presently.
It was just an opportunity for me to first to perform on a higher level, then also the ability to employ a lot of people in the community. The Super Bowl Experience opened up an opportunity for me to continue working with this vendor in the future.
I’ve also been able to connect, because I’ve attended a lot of the NFL events.
I was approached by another gentleman, and I don’t know how they got my name, but I am just so blessed. They are in charge of the NFL merchandising and of the hotels approved to sell the products. He’s like, Robyn, can you provide me professional retail staffing to retail NFL merchandise? I said, of course I can. And he has 32 hotels that they’re setting up in. So that’s an awesome opportunity.
It just makes me feel good to know that I can compete and deliver at this level. It’s just, you know, I’m limitless now.
What are you looking forward to on Feb. 7?
The Bucs to win.