Seeking out diversity

Published March 18, 2007

The stats on Progress Energy Florida's shiny new headquarters are impressive.

Number of stories: 16.

Years since downtown St. Petersburg last sprouted a new office tower: at least 15.

Construction dollars spent by Atlanta developer Carter & Associates: about $50-million.

But for Hudson Oliveira, who runs Progress Florida's supplier-diversity program, the project's most memorable figure may be the $10.5-million, or 20 percent, it awarded to women- and minority-owned businesses.

"It makes business sense," he said. "If you don't include the proper suppliers in the bidding process, you don't have proper competition."

Oliveira, 39, can identify with being an outsider. The Brazilian immigrant left home shortly after graduating from high school and settled in Portland, Ore., where he found work as a machine operator at a plastics factory and began studying for a business degree at night. As his English improved, he was moved to the company's front office and, later, to a job buying plastic resins and other raw materials. He and his wife eventually moved to Tampa. There, the freshly minted U.S. citizen held procurement jobs at Sypris Electronics and former accounting giant Arthur Andersen.

At Progress Florida, Oliveira hunts far and wide for suppliers whose owners are African-American, Hispanic, Asian-American, Native American or military veterans. Such companies can register at www.progress-energy.com/supplierdiversity. Small businesses of all stripes also are eligible.

Oliveira and his colleagues also help set internal goals. This year, for example, Progress Energy plans to award at least 9 percent of all contract dollars to minority businesses.

In Florida, Progress Energy set a separate goal of 20 percent in 2005 for its soon-to-be constructed headquarters. Among the beneficiaries was Wannemacher Russell Architects Inc. of St. Petersburg, a women-owned company that designed the high-rise's interior.

"If you look for them, you can find them," Oliveira said.