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Forum brings minorities closer to opportunities

Sandra Larson
Sandra Larson is a Boston-based freelance journalist covering urban/social issues and policy. VIEW BIO
Forum brings minorities closer to opportunities
local11b.jpg (Photo: Sandra Larson)

Minority and women contractors seeking business opportunities gathered at Massachusetts Minority Contractors Association (MMCA)’s Dorchester office recently to hear about upcoming construction projects and potential opportunities for small businesses.

At the “Access to Opportunity Forum” May 23, principals or representatives of companies doing building projects in Boston gave short presentations and then stayed after the program for one-on-one questions.

Jeanne Pinado, CEO and executive director of the nonprofit Madison Park Development Corporation (MPDC), said her organization is now doing a renovation of Madison Park Village IV housing in Roxbury, employing 80 workers so far. Upcoming projects include Dudley Greenville, a new 43-unit housing development; renovation of Madison Park Village III; and development of Parcel 10, a large multi-use project including a new supermarket, retail, housing and offices.

Pinado said MPDC aims for higher minority/female worker numbers than those specified by the “50/25/10” Boston Residents Job Policy, which requires city-funded construction projects to ensure 50 percent of worker-hours in each trade are by Boston residents; 25 percent by minorities; and 10 percent by women.

Past MMCA President Lonnie Daniels, a diversity specialist consulting with MPDC, added that 83 percent of workers on the Madison Park IV project are people of color.

While the city policy specifies worker numbers, it does not specify utilization of minority- and women-owned business enterprises (MBEs and WBEs). “But we mandate it in our contracts,” Pinado said, drawing applause from this event’s audience. M/WBE utilization on Madison Park IV is 42 percent, she said.

Tony Miliote of Shawmut Design and Construction spoke about the Ferdinand site, where the new $115 million Dudley Municipal Facility is getting underway. Only one trade is onsite so far, he said, and multiple bid packages will be out over the next year. He urged people in subtrades such as masonry, waterproofing, roofing, glass and flooring to get their Division of Capital Asset Management (DCAM) certification now, to be ready to bid for work when it’s available.

In response to a question, Miliote said there are no formal MBE utilization goals on this project, although they plan to adhere to the 50/25/10 policy for worker hiring.

Vertec Corporation’s Bill Faradie Jr. said the company is hiring now for a project to renovate 80 units across 10 buildings at Codman Square Apartments.

“We’ve been actively reaching out to minority contractors,” he said. “We work with many in this room already. Don’t go away tonight –– we want to talk with you.”

Jim Rotatori of Walsh Brothers gave a somewhat discouraging rundown of the 225 Centre Street project in Jamaica Plain. Ninety-six percent of the subtrade work has already been contracted, he said — leaving little to offer to this audience.

MMCA was formed in 2007 to promote greater access to construction contracts for MBEs and WBEs. Board member David Lopes, owner of Wellington Design and Construction in Mattapan, took a moment to elaborate on MMCA’s mission.

“We are an advocacy organization,” he said. “We are going to educate [companies] on the necessity of working with people of color in this city.

“This is the right thing to do,” he continued. “We all agree we want crime to decrease, and poverty to decrease. It decreases when we create opportunity — by inviting people who haven’t been invited before to the table.”

Current MMCA President Jesse Jeter said the purpose of the forum was to help contractors meet with the large construction firms who may need their services, ideally well in advance of that need.

“We want to get them engaged early. Small firms need to know in advance to be properly prepared,” he said.

When projects are already out of the gate, the forums can still help build relationships for the future, he explained.

Rochelle Payne, co-owner of a union painting and labor contracting company, said she found the forum useful.

“Networking with general contractors gives you an advantage,” she said after the event. “Once they meet with you, they know you’re really trying to seek out a position, you’re not just an average subcontractor.”

Others had mixed reactions, mainly about the reality of getting work.

“All these projects sound good — if we could just get the work on them,” said Calvin Brandford, owner of CHP Excavating. He said there is insufficient enforcement of the city’s workforce requirements.

Ironworker Edward Jordan, owner of A+ Welding and Ironworks, was more blunt. “They’re all full of garbage,” he said of construction managers who pledge to utilize minority workers and businesses. But he put some of the blame on inadequate monitoring and enforcement.

“The issue really isn’t with the general contractors. It’s with the city,” he said. “The city has to put their foot down [when they’re not meeting the numbers] and tell them, ‘We’re not giving you any more contracts.’ The city needs to make sure the contractors are doing what they’re supposed to do.”

Boston City Councilor-at-Large Ayanna Pressley, keynote speaker for the event, has worked to improve transparency in monitoring the Boston Resident Jobs Policy. She co-sponsored an ordinance to make worker hiring numbers visible to all in an online database. (The database can be viewed by searching for “compliance” on the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA)’s website, bostonredevelopmentauthority.org.)

She is now focusing on small business enterprises. She is co-sponsor of a June 5 hearing with Greater Boston Interfaith Organization on the bidding and payment processes for city-funded contracts. The aim of the hearing, to be held at Roxbury Presbyterian Church, is to help ensure fair access to opportunities on city projects, and reliable and prompt contractor payments.

The hearing is spurred in part by a 2010 study that revealed the wealth gap between whites and African Americans has increased fourfold since 1984.

“I know we can’t fix the wealth gap by getting one job for one person at a time,” Pressley told the contractors. “We have to support small businesses, and employers who create jobs for many people.”

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