New Day Dawns In Building Industry

December 29, 2003
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GRAND RAPIDS — The New Year brings new hope to everyone in the local construction industry, at least as far as public projects are concerned.

An enormous change takes place on Jan.1, when for the first time since 1976 the city will be without a policy that requires a percentage of involvement from companies owned by minorities and women on publicly funded building projects.

The Minority and Women Business Enterprise Program will vanish at the stroke of midnight Thursday morning and will be replaced by a policy that is free of numbers on the topics of race and gender.

No longer will majority contractors be required to award 9 percent and 1 percent of a contract’s value to minorities and women, respectively, in order to be considered for a project that is funded by tax dollars, a task that general contractors often said was extremely difficult to accomplish.

At the same time, the new policy hopes to provide equitable access to do business with the city and to enhance the growth, development and participation of small and emerging businesses to work on city construction contracts.

A third goal of the policy is to encourage involvement in strategic areas of the city.

Commissioners believe the policy will accomplish all three.

“I think this is a very positive step,” said 2nd Ward Commissioner Lynn Rabaut last week. “I think the policy is going to do the city well.”

First Ward Commissioner Roy Schmidt said the Enterprise program was outdated for today’s world and he felt that minority and women contractors would get more work and improve their standings in the local industry under the new policy.

Third Ward Commissioner Robert Dean went a step further. He predicted that the city’s new policy would, in time, become a model for the rest of the country.

“I think this is really innovative. This is about inclusiveness. It does open the door,” he said.

Ingrid Scott-Weekley, director of the city’s Equal Opportunity Department, told the Business Journal last week that it took two-and-a-half years to develop the new policy and that input into it came from all segments of the local building industry.

Engineers, builders, general contractors, underground contractors, minorities and women who work in the industry and own firms, and city staff all had a say in developing it. Scott-Weekley was very grateful that everyone got involved, but she offered special praise for the minority and women contractors.

“The minority and women contractors had to give up their personal time to sit at the table with us for hours and go through this. They are really to be commended,” she said.

“No. 1, it shows how much they believe in the program. No. 2, it shows how much they really do want an opportunity to participate. They want the doors to be opened so that they can do business with the city.”

The new policy prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, creed, national origin, or gender when a company places a bid on a publicly funded construction contract worth a minimum of $10,000. The policy applies whether the project is funded solely by the city or by any combination of federal, state, and city dollars — unless another governmental unit regulates the project.

City Manager Kurt Kimball and his staff will implement the policy, which contains an appeal process for contractors who feel they’ve been wrongly denied a contract. The new policy allows the city to reject or accept a bid, to refuse to award a contract, to terminate a bid or contract, to advertise for new bids, and to select a bidder other than the lowest.

Scott-Weekley said EOD has a number of ways to track the new policy’s success rate and her department was in the process of refining its data-collection system to do just that.

“We’ve got different kinds of programs that take a look at the administrative guidelines of the policy. A lot of the programs are based on bid discounts, so we will be tracking those discounts,” she said.

“In the new program they are given incentives. Their bids are discounted based on the percentage of participation that they have. That is one major piece of the program, so it’s quite different than the old program. It’s using a carrot approach rather than a stick approach,” she added.

EOD will issue quarterly, semi-annual and annual reports on the progress the policy is making.

“It took us nearly two-and-a-half years to get to this point, and having the mayor and the commissioners adopt the policy was just a great sigh of relief for us,” said Scott-Weekley.

“But now it opens up a whole new door in terms of the work we have to do because we all want this program to work. We think it is a better program than the other program and there are lots more opportunities of growth for our minority and women contractors. But now the real work begins.”    

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