Building Diversity

February 10, 2006
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GRAND RAPIDS — Disadvantaged businesses might find an advantage in working with the Grand Rapids Public Schools.

The district is beginning a multi-phase building rehabilitation and construction project worth more than $150 million. In keeping with the schools' diversity plan, the district and its construction partners have begun a campaign to encourage minority involvement.

Representatives of the school district, construction partner Triangle Associates, the city of Grand Rapids, and state work-force development agencies will be present Feb. 23 for an outreach meeting to explain the projects at hand, and how minority contractors and workers can get involved.

David Smith, director of facilities for Grand Rapids Public Schools, spoke at a similar event in January about the importance of the upcoming multi-million-dollar projects. First, he said, they provide an economic stimulus, as local construction firms buy goods and services and pay taxes in the community.

"When we grow the tax base in Grand Rapids, we grow our ability to raise tax dollars for the future," he said. "So we think it is important to keep the money at home, and to look to our businesses in the greater Grand Rapids area and help them grow."

Those local businesses create a sense of pride in ownership of the facilities within the community. And when minority contractors are involved, Smith said, they also create a sense of hope.

"We are a district that has a majority of minorities," said Smith. "Most of our students are non-white. And we want them to see that they have ample opportunity. We want them to see that with the design, engineering and construction side of our project — most of which is being done right outside their classroom window — that they have opportunities. We want our kids to see that our buildings — Grand Rapids Public School buildings — are being built by a work force that represents this community."

So how does the district amass a team representative of the racial and ethnic diversity of its students? One year ago, the public schools finalized a diversity plan for construction. In essence, it awards points in the bidding process to firms that are certified as Disadvantaged Business Enterprises, firms that use such woman- or minority-owned businesses as subcontractors, and those that employ minority workers.

The points system is based on a scale of 100. The largest portion of points is awarded based on a contractor's bid for the job. The lowest qualified bidder, for example, gets 90 points. Other bidders get a percentage of that 90 points, based on the difference between their bids and the lowest bid. The rest of the points are awarded based on the diversity plan and other general criteria.

The upcoming outreach session is designed not only to further explain the Madison Middle School project and how the diversity points system works, but also to allow non-minority owned firms to network with minority-owned subcontractors.

Contractors who attend the Feb. 23 meeting will also learn about diverse staffing possibilities made available through the Michigan Works! program. Not only can the program fill vacancies on work crews, but it can also provide reimbursement of up to $1,800 for on-the-job training.

At the January meeting, the organizers stressed the importance of minority-owned businesses becoming certified as Disadvantaged Business Enterprises. At the upcoming meeting, Alexander Thomas of the city of Grand Rapids Equal Opportunity Department will explain how businesses can gain this certification. According to Thomas, becoming certified as a disadvantaged business enterprise is just as important for contractors as becoming licensed and bonded.

"You need that certification so people can believe and trust that you know what you're doing," he told the audience of approximately 120 at the January meeting.

Triangle Associates expects another large turnout for the next meeting, which will be held at the firm's office at 3769 Three Mile Road NW in Grand Rapids. Interested parties may visit www.triangle-inc.com or contact project manager Mick Barney at (616) 453-3950 for information or to RSVP.    

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