In 2012, Progress Energy Florida, Inc. began planning construction for a new operation center in Madison, Florida. The utility’s Real Estate and Sourcing personnel approached the Supplier Diversity & Business Development business unit and asked for recommendations on local. minority, small business contractors in North Florida that might be interested in bidding on the project. April Harley, Supplier Diversity Coordinator, sought and received a recommendation from the local Florida A&M University Small Business Development Center – Pinnacle Construction Support Group, Inc., a minority owned construction management firm based in Tallahassee, Florida, with offices in Orlando and Coral Gables.

During the year that Pinnacle awaited the opportunity to bid on the project, the company strengthened its value proposition, including safety, subcontractor management, technology and branding. Once the proposals were submitted and reviewed, Pinnacle was identified as the winning bidder based on technical expertise and commercial value offered. Pinnacle, however was not satisfied with simply accepting and performing the job. The principals of Pinnacle, Harold Knowles, Cory McFarlane and Spencer Shepard agreed with Progress Energy that it was important to utilize local subcontractors in the economically challenged area in North Florida to help complete the project.

Through coordination with Progress Energy’s Supplier Diversity, Community Relations and Corporate Communications, the company conducted a vendor fair in Madison, Florida on September 7, 2011 and provided information to prospective trade professionals on registration for bids and then offered assistance to ensure that those who were interested in participating were given fair opportunity. As a result, local vendors from Leon, Taylor, Madison, Gadsden, Jefferson, Suwannee and Lowndes counties were awarded subcontracts for work such as surveying, site-work, electrical, flooring, fencing, concrete plumbing, sanitation and finishing, totaling approximately $500,000.

Through the application of innovative technology solutions the Pinnacle team was able to deliver cost savings and efficiencies, as promised at the start-up. To date, they have returned all cost savings to Progress Energy.

The Madison Operation Center building was completed on schedule and under their initial budget through the active engagement of local contractors and Pinnacle’s superior project management and oversight. Progress Energy and Pinnacle believe their efforts offered a boost to the local economy and built relationships for future participation by local businesses.



Dance has been my passion for over 20 years. I started dancing at the age of 3, and since I was a teenager I have wanted my own dance studio. I have been a teacher for almost 10 years, and after teaching in several studios, I decided that it was time for me to open my own business. I wanted to be a business owner because I wanted to share my creativity, vision and love of dance with others. So I took the plunge and opened Ni’Cole’s Performing Arts Center. Ni’Cole’s Performing Arts Center provides dance instruction to children ranging from walking age through adult. Specific classes offered include Mommy & Me, Pre-dance, Ballet, Tap, Jazz, Contemporary, Hip-Hop and Adult.

Although I was excited to be a business owner, I knew that I needed a plan. I thought of the Small Business Development Center and contacted Keith Bowers at the SBDC at FAMU. He helped me organize my business plan and look for funding resources. He challenged me with questions about my business structure and how would it operate. Keith assisted me in developing my pricing structure to ensure that it was competitive, realistic and adequate to sustain my operations. He helped me apply for my LLC. Also, he challenged me to conduct research that would help me develop a plan which would allow my business to succeed in the Tallahassee area. The research component was also an obstacle as well. There are several key elements that go into a business plan including the marketing strategies and feasibility plan. These two components combined require a lot of time and research.

The SBDC offered many training opportunities, and one of the trainings that I took advantage of was on social media. The class was centered on how to build your business around social media outlets such as your website, Facebook, Twitter and blogging. This information was beneficial because before the class, I did not see any real benefit to engaging in these outlets; however, after taking the class I realized how important social media is to building a business.

I have a Bachelor of Science degree in Communications with an emphasis in Broadcasting from Georgia Southern University. I also have a master’s degree in Non-Profit Management from the University of Central Florida. I have worked in public relations for non-profit organizations, and I also worked in grant writing. Working with non-profits is very important to me. I have been a volunteer since I was a teenager, and I believe that we owe it to our community to give back.

Although I have started a new business, I am still active in the Tallahassee community. I am on the executive board of Big Bend Pop Warner as the Cheer and Dance Commissioner. My volunteer experience has served as strength in business. The community resources and leaders that I have met have been some of my strongest supporters and allies. Community partnerships, however, are not the only tools that I have utilized. I have utilized strategies outlined in the business plan, such as Facebook, website, local newspaper and resources to spread the word about my business. I have utilized my broadcasting background to market my business via, newspaper, magazine, radio broadcasting, and other online marketing publications.

Deciding to be a business owner can be a rewarding yet challenging experience. Some of the rewards are being your own boss, creating a work schedule that can be beneficial to you and your family, and pursuing the dream. Some of the challenges include making sure the business is sustainable in a stagnate market. Additionally, it is challenging to get funding for a new business because many banks are not willing to take a chance on a new business with no financial history.

My advice to anyone thinking of starting a business is to do your homework, implement a strategy, and adapt to the market. There are many tough days but the key is to maintain a positive attitude and visualize where you want your business to be in the marketplace, being a self-motivator, communicator and networking are also key ingredients to keeping your spirits up during the rough times. Opening Ni’Cole’s Performing Arts Center has been a life-long dream and I am so happy that I am able to live my dream each day.

Johnston’s Meat Market is a retail meat market, restaurant, and custom processing and slaughtering plant located in Monticello, Florida. The business has been in continuous operation for 86 years since its doors opened in 1926. Currently, Johnston’s largest market is retail consumers in its physical store, as well as online customers. They have a large customer following that is loyal to the family sausage recipe and other smoked meats. Johnston’s also has a large turkey fund-raising service that drives many new customers to its store.

The owner, Hal Bennett, has a vision to expand his operations into a full-service, USDA-approved slaughtering facility. There are no full-service facilities within 160 miles of the proposed plant. By obtaining USDA certification, the wholesale market would become available on a national scale. Through his intimate knowledge of the business and direct feedback from the market, Bennett has determined there is a high demand for this type of facility in the area.

Bennett is working with the FSBDC at Florida A &M University to accelerate the growth of his business. The lead consultant, Jonathon Wiggins, and FSBDC Regional Director Keith Bowers have assisted Bennett with obtaining funding for the expansion, submitting a 504 loan application to Florida First Capital Finance Corporation. The next step for Wiggins and Bowers is to conduct an in-depth business health assessment of Johnston’s Meat Market.

“I was introduced to Jonathon Wiggins and Keith Bowers by our Executive Director Julie Conley (Jefferson County Economic Development Council) in Monticello,” said Bennett. “I never thought that someone would listen to my story about our 86 year old business. They listened to everything I had to say and had an open mind to what I am trying to do with our business. Also, they listened to my financial needs in this economic down time. It is a really good feeling having someone from the SBDC help me along with this process.”

Upon completion of the expansion, Johnston’s Meat Market expects to create eight full-time and two part-time jobs, and revenue is projected to increase 50-percent the first year and 100-percent by year two. Bennett says he is looking forward to developing the relationship with the SBDC as he believes he can achieve his goals with their assistance.

  • 1
  • 2