Chamber focuses on minority contractors


The Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce has been ramping up its focus on helping minority-owned contractor businesses succeed.

After about two decades in existence, the West Michigan Minority Contractors Association a few years ago became a program of the chamber.

The chamber has spent the past year increasing the scope of services to those involved in the program, said Dante Villarreal, chamber vice president of business services and talent development.

The program traditionally focused on providing networking opportunities for minority contractors, which still is important, he said.

“In the construction industry, people want to know who they're doing business with. They rely so much on each other that building that relationship is important,” he said.

But the chamber has been “intentional” in providing opportunities and helping the business owners increase capacity, Villarreal said.

The chamber has been working with the contractors in the bid process to help strengthen their chances of landing primary contractor jobs, not just secondary or tertiary roles.

Sometimes there are language barriers or other issues that keep them from landing jobs, but sometimes it’s just because they don’t have as many connections, Villarreal said. 

“Construction is just like any business,” he said. “These are industries that rely heavily on understanding customers and connecting with your customers and knowing who they are.”

Many of the minority contractors are first-generation business owners who began their careers as trades workers.

The chamber offers workshops and seminars, as well as consulting from staff experts on bid submissions and assistance with getting certified. Villarreal said many of the contractors have reported increased bid submissions after utilizing some of these services.

Villarreal said there are about 30-40 businesses that are members of the WMMCA. Some include Monte Cristo Electric, Grand Rapids Fire Protection and R&R Mechanical.

R&R Mechanical, which provides heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration services to homeowners and businesses, recently moved into a newly renovated 8,000-square-foot building at 433 Crofton St. SE in Grand Rapids from its former 1,500-square-foot space. The renovation project took eight months and a $700,000 investment from the company.

The company has more than 30 employees at its new home.

“They're growing like crazy,” Villarreal said. “We want all of our minority contractors to follow in their footsteps.”

There is almost $1 billion of construction on the books in Grand Rapids, and that’s a lot of wealth creation — for the businesses involved, Villarreal said.

“However, our minority contractors are kind of being left behind. We want them at the table. We want them strong, we want them competitive and we want them to be proactive.”

The WMMCA is hosting several events yet this year for its members.

July 16: After Hours

This regular event will be hosted this month by WMMCA and ABC Western Michigan.

Time: 5-7 p.m.

Location: Wheelhouse Kitchen & Cocktails, 67 Ottawa Ave. SW, Grand Rapids

Oct. 1: Meet the Buyer

Buyers and contractors can connect with each other at this networking event. 

Time: 5-7 p.m.

Location: Grand Rapids Chamber, 250 Monroe Ave. NW, Suite 150

Dec. 3: Meet the ESOs

Contractors can connect with entrepreneur support organizations, such as Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women and the Small Business Development Center. 

Villarreal said this event is meant to help contractors plan for projects to pursue in 2020.

Time: 5-7 p.m.

Location: Grand Rapids Chamber, 250 Monroe Ave. NW, Suite 150

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