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by Jim Wyss

What do Dell Computer, General Electric and Boeing have in common? These massive corporations were all counted as “small businesses” doing work in Florida last year.

The three firms — along with a dozen other billion-dollar companies — soaked up at least $76 million in federal contracts that were recorded as going to small businesses during fiscal year 2008, according to government data.

The issue of how federal dollars are spent is critical in Florida, where 90 percent of all businesses have fewer than 20 employees and government contracts represent a valuable lifeline amid a tanking economy.

While the federal government is obliged to put 23 percent of all direct, or prime, contracts in the hands of small firms, it has missed that mark for the past three years.

“Call me crazy, but I just don’t think Fortune 500 companies should be counted as small-business contracts,” said Lloyd Chapman, president of the American Small Business League. “I just can’t believe this is still going on.”

The Small Business Administration recently reported that, nationwide, small firms received a record $93.2 billion in prime contracts in 2008. While that was $10 billion more than the previous year, it only represented 21.5 percent of all deals.

In Florida, more than 12,000 companies won small-business contracts worth $4.8 billion, according to the FPDS-NG, the government’s procurement database.

But a Miami Herald analysis of more than 88,400 contracts performed in the state suggests that the numbers are bloated by companies that either don’t belong on the list or defy all reasonable definitions of what makes a small firm.

Among the top 20 small business contractors in Florida, seven had revenue of $100 million or more, and one boasts annual revenue of $1 billion. In addition, nine of the top 20 firms have more than 100 workers and three have more than 1,000 employees.

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