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Building a diverse construction industry

JocCole “JC” Burton

The Biden administration’s infrastructure plan, passed last year, includes 32,000 projects totaling $220 billion in planned spending with an extraordinary commitment to aging infrastructure repairs, new climate mitigation strategies and innovative technology. The legislative package creates unprecedented opportunities for construction firms in Boston and nationwide — firms that have endured severe economic uncertainties in recent years.

But with these welcome opportunities, there is a looming question. Can smaller construction companies with leadership that is Black, brown, Indigenous or female win the big contracts? Will those firms be creating the buildings and bridges, the affordable housing, the schools and community health facilities that new federal dollars support? Can minority- and women-owned companies gain confidence in markets dominated by traditional, long-established contractors?

Companies owned and managed by women and people of color are underrepresented in construction. Those of us on the ground competing for construction contracts are all too aware of the obstacles that are even more challenging in this post-pandemic era of inflationary costs and limited resources.

A pathway to doing better

SRGE is a unique construction equity accelerator that seeks to fill the critical need of many companies for back-office support and technical resources. Founded in 2022, it provides access to capital, strategic guidance, access to necessary technology and business development support. Our partners invest in SRGE the same way they invest in tech start-ups: they deploy capital, support resilient companies, surround those companies with salient management strategies and participate in the resulting growth and impact. SRGE has joined with business, political and economic partners to shore up the resources of small contractors.

Much like the highly regarded Construction Association of Boston (CAB), SRGE provides services that some companies cannot afford to purchase. As an accelerator, it works to provide access to new lines of business and helps develop vital partnerships.

Small construction companies are often in need of specific operational expertise prior to winning a contract. A strong response to a “Request for Proposal” signals that a company is likely to be operationally sound.  But companies often lack the resources to develop a strong enough response.  SRGE supports companies through the bidding and pre-construction stages.   

An entrepreneur’s dream

I grew up spending time in my grandfather’s television and appliance repair shop; it was a community cornerstone. I watched him not only run a business, but also provide sage advice to others seeking to launch companies. I was honored to learn from giants in the industry, gaining a solid understanding of labor production and quality control. I was mentored by the founder of one of the largest Black-owned commercial construction companies in America. I climbed the ladder from project engineer to construction manager/project executive for a billion-dollar construction company.

When I launched Maven Construction, Inc. in 2008, a full-service general contracting firm, I had experience and resources behind me. My commitment to helping build construction companies with Black and brown leadership evolved out of that experience. I clearly remember the Big Dig, where opportunities were abundant, yet small, minority- and women-led firms did not have the required infrastructure to win contracts. I wanted to change that.

SRGE was born out of my experience as a woman in construction.  I cut my teeth as an affordable housing developer, revitalizing some of the first HOPE VI communities in the country.  My journey includes managing the construction of retail spaces, academic facilities, geothermal wells, energy retrofits, small bank branches, high performing buildings and more. 

SRGE is new in town. Its staff are respected industry veterans collectively fired up by our mission. SRGE was developed with thought leadership from the Massachusetts Housing Investment Corporation, National Society of Black Engineers, Boston Impact Initiative and partnerships with Randstad, Harvard Business School, Boston Consulting Group and other industry firms.

We are working now with a cohort of participant companies and invite construction firms from across the Commonwealth to join us in preparation for the challenges and opportunities of a soaring marketplace. We have the tools to support their advancement. SRGE is here for communities of color and the talented entrepreneurs of the construction industry.

JocCole “JC” Burton is founder/CEO of SRGE construction equity accelerator and Maven Construction, Inc., a Dorchester-based general contractor with multi-million-dollar revenue.