Published in Nonprofits
A new nonprofit looks to build relationships and networks among women- and minority-owned construction firms. A new nonprofit looks to build relationships and networks among women- and minority-owned construction firms.

Nonprofit works to build ‘deep relationships’ in construction industry to help minority contractors

BY Sunday, May 08, 2022 06:36pm

Nate Beene’s decision to join the leadership team at Construction Allies in Action was driven by his passion to remove barriers for local women and minority business owners in the construction industry.

The Grand Rapids-based nonprofit formed in 2020 to help create generational change by helping underrepresented contractors. Construction Allies launched an inaugural seven-month, free construction training program in 2021 called Strong Foundations Program. The second cohort of minority-owned, women-owned and micro-local construction contractors is currently underway with 18 companies participating from West Michigan. 

“This is something that is innately part of who I am as a minority contractor myself and wanting to help others to bust through those obstacles quicker than I was able to,” said Beene, who sits on the board of directors of Construction Allies in Action. 

Beene also has been working to make West Michigan’s construction industry more equitable for minority contractors through his own company, Building Bridges Professional Services L3C, and in his role as co-chairman of the West Michigan Minority Contractors Association

The construction industry has long faced a talent shortage that was only exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Along with materials shortages, spending in most construction sectors declined from February to March this year as companies struggled to find enough workers, according to data released this month by Associated General Contractors of America. 

As well, 402,000 construction positions across the U.S. were unfilled by the end of October 2021, marking the second-highest level of unfilled positions recorded since data collection started in December 2000, according to a March McKinsey & Co. report.

“Wherever there is a lack or weakness, there is a market opportunity to do something different,” Beene said. “With many general contractors struggling to fill their own workforces, it’s an opportunity for the minority businesses to step into some of those gaps and fill those voids.” 

Affiliate HUB

Construction Allies plans to launch a new tool this summer called the Affiliate HUB program, a membership-based program for contractors to get resources at a reduced cost to scale their businesses.

 The program will offer contractors services like networking events that can lead to business opportunities, mentors to help grow their businesses, legal assistance, office space and other resources to assist with scaling their companies, Elizabeth Bovard Strong, who also sits on the board of directors for Construction Allies in Action, told MiBiz. The goal is to launch the Affiliate HUB initiative by the end of summer this year.

Organizers learned during last year’s Strong Foundations Program that contractors need more resources to get to a place where they are ready to bid in the contracting world, a main goal of the Affiliate HUB program, Bovard Strong said. 

“This is a huge diversity, equity and inclusion effort that is action-oriented,” Bovard Strong said. “In West Michigan, especially, I do see pushes to attract underrepresented contractor work on jobs, but the biggest reason why it doesn’t happen often is because many of those contractors don’t have the capacity to do bigger jobs and we need to do all we can to build those companies.”

The nonprofit plans to charge an annual fee of either $75 or $125 per year, based on the company’s annual earnings, for the Affiliate HUB program. 

The HUB would offer back-office support and eventually help contractors get the services on their own.

Casa Pintura LLC, a residential and commercial painting company based in Byron Center, is currently experiencing high workloads in the construction industry. But the company also is gaining knowledge and resources through Construction Allies to scale its services, said Jodie Rykse-Salmoran, whose husband, Juan Salmoran, founded Casa Pintura. 

Juan Salmoran formed the painting company about six years ago with Edgar Guerro. They are currently in the Strong Foundations program to gain skills in how to train and recruit talent to grow their company to take on more projects.

“We’ve seen that there is so much work out there, there are incredible opportunities right now, so we could be easily running several crews but finding help has been the biggest issue,” Rykse-Salmoran said. “The Strong Foundations program will really help the guys learn how to become managers and supervisors, that’s something that none of us had the opportunity to do before.”

As first-generation business owners, learning how to get things like legal help and insurance for a business is a challenge on top of the fact that Salmoran and Guerro are both from Mexico with Spanish as their first language, Rykse-Salmoran said. The Strong Foundations program connected them to a mentor in construction that speaks English and Spanish, she said.

“It’s exciting to have people in your corner and not feel like you’re isolated and alone,” Rykse-Salmoran said. “If we’re bidding on projects, they’re there to help us find out what insurance we need and how to do things like applying for a loan.”

Rykse-Salmoran is currently learning how to start an apprenticeship painting program that offers training in both Spanish and English to help grow the talent pool for the business and other painting companies, as well as give people the opportunity to enter a lucrative field, she said.

“Our niche is that the guys can train and speak Spanish, and there are other (painting companies) out there as well, and I hope this would bring us together because everybody is hurting for help right now,” Rykse-Salmoran said.

Calling on allies

The nonprofit’s mission is to not only help the contractors it serves, but also to issue a call to action for developers and project owners to hire minority-owned contractors, Beene said.

“Construction Allies is trying to create a collective brand for the minority business community in the construction industry,” Beene said. “To some extent it is sad it needs to be that way, but it’s needed at this point to build trust and change the perspective of people. We need allies and people who will come forward and be transparent about their numbers.”

More project owners need to be willing to commit a certain dollar amount to spend on hiring minority contractors, and be transparent about the process to create measurable change, Beene explained. 

“We need folks’ support and need the community to come alongside this,” Beene said. “I think this is the right model to actually see some real change. We always say, ‘transformation happens at the speed of deep relationships.’ We’re trying to build those relationships and hope that leads to a new type of change.” 

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Read 837 times Last modified on Monday, 09 May 2022 09:29