When Floyd Freeman was a student at the University of South Florida, the school didn’t have a football team. The Bulls fielded their first squad in 1997, the year after he graduated.
So as an alumnus and season ticket holder, Freeman is excited by the prospect of a football stadium on USF’s Tampa campus. But it excites him even more as a business owner.
“It would be very nice, very exciting, to be able to build something there,” said Freeman, the founder and CEO of Tampa telecommunications company Cablelytics. “It would almost be personal pride, and a little bit of bragging rights. I could say, ‘That’s my school I went to. I was able to build that.’”
By the time USF aims to open the stadium in 2026, a number of local minority-owned businesses like Freeman’s should be able to say the same thing.
USF’s Office of Supplier Diversity, formed in 2017, has driven the school’s push to steer 13% to 20% of procurement spending toward minority-, women- and veteran-owned Tampa Bay businesses. It’s led the way on that front as the school has broken ground on new projects like a research and innovation building and the Osprey Suites dormitory in St. Petersburg.
But the stadium, a highly visible project with a potential price tag of $350 million, represents the school’s biggest opportunity yet for those businesses to get a foot in the door ― not to mention tens of millions of dollars in potential income.
“We’ve been waiting for this project for a very, very long time,” said Terrie Daniel, USF’s assistant vice president of supplier diversity. “We have been so adamant in communicating to whoever these construction firms are that will be submitting bids for review how important it is for our full community to participate in this project.”
Proposals for stadium design and construction were due July 22; school leaders will examine and winnow them down into the fall. While the bids are not yet public, some include teams and subcontractors that have already worked together to boost minority-owned business participation on university projects. That can include everything from general construction firms to smaller businesses delivering everything from landscaping to security, roofing and flooring to telecommunications.
With some USF projects, construction management firms come on board with minority partners already in mind. In others, they may still be seeking subcontractors. In either case, Daniel’s office meets with owners, architects and contractors to make sure all parties keep that 13% to 20% number in mind. That rate is not a mandate, and many projects have minority-owned participation much higher than that.
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But “what we don’t want is at the end of the project, not achieving the goal that we’ve set at the inception,” Daniel said.
Among the companies that are part of a stadium bid is national commercial construction firm the Beck Group, which has a mentorship-turned-partnership with family-owned Tampa construction firm Envision. Together, those groups have worked on a handful of USF facilities, including the Judy Genshaft Honors College, scheduled to open next year.
“USF has provided us the framework and structure for us to succeed and grow,” said Toth, Beck’s regional director of construction. “They just love having us there, because what it does is it allows us to connect more deeply with some of the smaller, minority trade contractors that want to do the same thing that Envision’s done on the general contractor side.”
Envision founder Allen Greene Sr. said the Beck partnership has already opened doors outside the USF community.
“We’re on warp speed because we teamed up with a great team,” Greene said. “We’re not looking for anyone to give us anything because we’re an MBE (minority business enterprise) firm. We’re a qualified firm. We’re here to do it at the best level we can do it, and we’re being taught by one of the best in the industry.”
Daniel said part of her office’s mission is making connections between firms who want to work on USF projects, and USF teams that may not know where to find them. USF has some 2,000 employees authorized to make university purchases, many of them not tied to construction.
“Whether they spend $1 or a $100 million on a major construction project, all of it matters,” Daniel said.
A few weeks ago, Daniel’s office held a community meeting to let minority-owned businesses know about some of the opportunities the stadium project could bring. The meeting was packed with business owners and representatives from larger firms looking to make inroads in the diverse supplier community.
“This is important for us, to make sure that the partner that is selected for this particular opportunity understands our vision and can come alongside us and champion supplier diversity in a way that we’ve never seen before,” Daniel said.
USF President Rhea Law said the Office of Supplier Diversity was one of her first stops when she started her job last year. The program has “my full support,” she said, and represents a key part of the school’s push for diversification across the board.
“Our university should reflect our community,” Law said. “We want to make sure that we are open and utilize diverse suppliers in all of our projects. But (the stadium) being the largest one, it will be viewed by many, and we will not lose that opportunity.”
Freeman, of telecom firm Cablelytics, said a role in developing wireless capabilities at USF’s stadium would be great exposure. He’s already scored some big contracts, including jobs at the Orange County Convention Center, Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino and Super Bowl 55 at Raymond James Stadium. Working on USF projects would help Cablelytics grow further.
“We are a minority company, but we are also qualified to do these types of projects,” he said. “It would mean a lot for my company to be able to get involved in some of (USF’s) existing renovation stuff. That would be huge.”
If 20% or more of stadium costs end up going to minority-owned business, that would be a win for the Office of Supplier Diversity. For the local companies that get that business, it would mean even more.
“It’s not about a goal or a metric or a percentage so to speak; it’s literally about continuing to change lives and build up our community,” said Envision president Allen Greene II. “This is not a transaction. It’s bigger than that. These are lives. That’s how we look at every opportunity. We keep pushing as far as we can so we don’t hit a number and stop. We keep our foot on the gas the entire time.”