No secrets in business incubator bids

By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Imagine playing poker with your cards on the table.
Or bidding on a competitive contract with the lowest price already revealed.
In a rare but necessary move this month, Lee County is looking for companies competing for a roughly $5.4 million contract to enter a bidding game with no hidden cards.
The Lee County Board of Supervisors voted to relaunch the bid process for the Renasant Center for IDEAs’ expansion. Ads for sealed bids will run in March, and the deadline for competing companies is April 5.
It’s the second time the county has solicited bids for the business incubator project. The first time drew about a half-dozen companies, each giving its lowest and best offer to build the 24,365-square-foot structure.
The county opened those bids – thereby publicly revealing each offer – and awarded the contract to Corinth-based CIG Contractors.
But supervisors had to rescind that award last month after a losing bidder found a flaw in the process: Project coordinators had failed to take into account a public holiday when granting a two-day extension to the bidding deadline.
The extension began on a Friday and ended on the Monday of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Because it was a public holiday, the company argued, it shouldn’t have counted in the extension.
Rather than fight the contention, supervisors agreed to scrap the bid process and begin anew – even though competitors now know the competition’s bids.
“It’s not ideal,” admitted County Administrator Sean Thompson after a recent board meeting.
But it is legal, and it has been done before, albeit rarely, said Gary Carnathan, the board’s attorney.
County officials said they anticipate the same companies to bid again and hope that several more might also enter the competition. It’s unclear, though, whether the situation will produce even lower prices or if everyone will adjust higher.
“You never know,” Carnathan said.
The county last year had joined the Community Development Foundation in a commitment to finance half of the expansion’s cost. The other half will come from a grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration.
The McCarty Company designed the LEED-certified building, which will be environmentally friendly and energy efficient.
It’ll be built near the existing 31,180-square-foot business incubator, which sits at Main and Elizabeth streets in downtown’s Fairpark District. CDF already owns the land for the proposed expansion.
When it’s finished, the building will house new businesses as part of the incubator as well as CDF’s offices. CDF currently is located at Main and Broadway streets.
Since opening in 2006, the business incubator has served more than 16 new businesses, three business-service providers and three community-based small business advocacy groups. In all, 298 jobs were created.
CDF President and CEO David Rumbarger told the Daily Journal last month the expansion likely will bring an additional 200 jobs.
In the short run, the expansion will employ 175-225 people involved in its construction. In the long run, it will create an estimated 179 new jobs from the businesses currently interested in a slot at the center, according to Rumbarger.

Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or emily.lecoz@djournal.com.