Program aims to partner minority contractors with project owners

Builders Exchange of Michigan is seeking generational change within the industry.
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Beene

The Construction Allies in Action initiative is seeking minority contractors to enroll in the Strong Foundations Program, which will give minority construction companies the skills they need to not only sustain but also grow their businesses in Michigan.

The initiative, formed by the Builders Exchange of Michigan, challenges project owners to be the agents of generational change, first by looking inward at their best practices for diversity and inclusion as it applies to their own projects.

“This is an area that sometimes gets missed, because they will look in their own offices and make sure there’s a good DEI that’s going on but, when they’re doing a lot of construction, sometimes that can get missed,” said Elizabeth Bovard Strong, executive vice president of the Builders Exchange of Michigan. “We want to make sure that inclusion goes from not only in their own office, but to the projects that they’re building.”

The Strong Foundations Program, fully funded by the Construction Allies, hopes to enroll any minority construction contractors that would benefit from the free program. The goal of the yearlong program is to equip contractors with practical knowledge courses and provide them with continuous support so they can position themselves for growth and success in the construction field.

Contractors will receive instruction on subjects like estimating, print reading, OSHA training and all of the other fundamentals, Strong said.

Nate Beene, co-founder Building Bridges Professional Services and a member of the Construction Allies steering committee, is responsible for helping plan the different aspects of the program, as well as recruiting minority business participants and project owners.

“There’s just been a lack of accountability and transparence in previous associations I’ve been on for general contractors,” Beene said. “It’s just been this general assumption that minority businesses need to do all these different things, and we need to have a marketing sheet and have the right business card … and while all those things are important, we know that really if you don’t cultivate deep relationships with the decision makers, then those things really are kind of obsolete.”

What makes Strong Foundations unique, Beene said, is it incorporates a shared accountability and measure of success — what percentage of subcontractors on a given project are minority-owned, for example — among owners and contractors.

“When Elizabeth approached me about doing this, it was kind of something I was dreaming of for the last couple of years and felt like something that was really necessary,” Beene said.

Through his landscaping company Building Bridges, Beene and his brother have actively recruited and trained individuals from disadvantaged communities, like Grand Rapids’ 49507 ZIP code, and paired them with other professionals in the landscaping sector.

Construction Allies In Action is compiling lists of eligible minority, women and disadvantaged business enterprises as classified by the Department of Transportation to afford these contractors more local and regional visibility.

“We know we’ve got some great companies out there,” Strong said. “We know we’ve also got some great general contractors out there who want to be a part of this … but our ultimate goal is to create success with these companies … and the only way we can really do it is with transparency and accountability.”

Strong Foundations classes begin in March 2021. Minority contractors can visit constructionallies.org/strong-foundations-program to apply. 

Project owners can apply at constructionallies.org/get-involved/become-an-ally. General contractors can apply at constructionallies.org/get-involved/become-a-partner

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