Connecting Minority Contractors to Business Opportunities
Metropolitan Contractor Improvement Partnership (MCIP) is a business development, support and training program for historically underutilized viable construction businesses with a heavy emphasis on minority businesses.
MCIP provides training opportunities designed to help minority contractors secure work, successfully manage construction projects, and develop their capacity and skills to continuously improve their businesses.
MCIP got its start from the founders and board members of the National Association of Minority Contractors of Oregon (NAMCO). The NAMCO board identified the need for a minority contracting development program that is focused made the link to contracting opportunities, as well as business capacity building. The focus is to help minority contractors secure work. NAMCO Past President James Posey and Vice President Faye Burch were instrumental in the process.
Executive Director Tony Jones shares early accomplishments of the partnership, and how the program is making a difference in minority-owned construction businesses.
What sets MCIP training apart from other small business development training programs?
The mission of MCIP is to create training opportunities that help contractors with business development and management, build capacity in certain skills so they may secure larger projects in the future. There are a number of opportunities coming down the road in terms of construction projects and NAMCO, in conjunction with partners , and we want to make sure that there is a pool of minority contractor businesses that can meet the demand for contractors.
As executive director, I’m responsible for evaluating the business capacity of minority contractors in the area. I also look at the gaps in the industry where we don’t have minority contractors. My primary charge is to develop and operate the training program to help build the capacity of these businesses.
Based on the needs that we’re seeing among minority contractors, we provide opportunities for contractors to get the training they need so they can be more comprehensive and competitive. We also work closely with partners in the industry to make sure that there are resources to support training.
We have some 23 contractors enrolled in the first year of the program. With the current economy, the primary concern that most contractors have is gaining work. One of our first training sessions focused on developing skills in estimating and bidding. We had veterans from the industry coming in to talk to minority contractors at the classes that we hold right here in our office. We offered hands-on practice by using a real-world project. Our goal was to teach skills to enable contractors to bid accurately and profitably.
We’re also planning to help businesses with financial management and securing loans. Training for construction project management systems is also planned: understanding contracts, invoicing, change orders. We also want to provide classes on helping minority contractors understand how a large general contractor or public owner does business. The goal is to enable contractors to work more effectively with the prime (contractor) and the owner, so they can get paid for the work they do, and make money.
Strong advocate for minority businesses
I have a master’s in urban planning, and have spent many years doing affordable housing development, which exposed me to construction-related work. It’s important for an urban planner to understand construction because it’s the most expensive line item on the budget.
I also managed construction projects for the Housing Development Center. While there, we had a small training program called the Construction Support Program, with goals similar to what we’re doing at MCIP. I enjoyed gaining experience in training minority contractors in business development. I was very committed to seeing greater participation of small businesses in larger projects.
My experience in business lending also afforded e the chance to work closely with small businesses. As a minority, I recognize the impact that minority-owned businesses have on our communities. When minority businesses are successful, they expand, hire employees, and improve their communities.
Challenges and issues
One of the biggest challenges is getting all the key partners – owner, prime contractor, and sometimes the funders – commit to the goal of making sure that minority construction businesses are hired on the job. Currently, a number of agencies have very minimal or no minority business utilization policies in place. The ones that do often have race- and gender-neutral policies that make it difficult to ensure that minority contractors are represented. NAMCO has really led the way to strengthen the approach and lend a bigger advocacy voice for minority contractors.
There’s no requirement about getting formal training in running a business. However, business ownership is probably one of the hardest things anyone can do. It’s tough, regardless of what industry you’re in. Many business owners started their business because of a passion or idea that would contribute to the marketplace. There are many aspects of financial management and project management that businesses can learn a great deal from, so they can continue to be successful and profitable. At MCIP, the training we provide gives minority businesses the right tools to bid on projects and seem them through completion.
What sets MCIP apart?
We make sure that contractors get work. Minority contractors have a strong opportunity to secure work with partners that really want to hire them. The best way to learn is by doing the work.
General business training programs add value, but they don’t take into consideration that each construction project is different. There are certain standards, but each project is unique and driven by different variables.
Our goal at MCIP is to help businesses build capacity. MCIP works closely with program participants on any project they’re working on: both public and private. It can be any project, and doesn’t need to be associated with a specific agency. We believe that for minority contractors to be successful, it’s important for them to have a blend of both public sector and private projects.
Identify historically underutilized viable construction businesses (HUCB).
Provide an incubator like environment that provides a continuum of detailed technical support services that assist these viable target businesses to develop their key project, financial and risk management systems.
Provide general project based technical assistance to other HUCB’s that are bidding other projects which funds are available.
Develop a business support program where HUCB’s can contract for business support services to assure these businesses consistently have staffing in place to implement and operate key business systems.
Support key advocacy efforts that assist in maximizing utilization of HUCB’s with targeted agencies and private projects
Work with private and public partners that are willing to support these principles.