Construction and Economic Development

Program sets up contractors for success

Rockford Construction’s Dimensions curriculum teaches companies how to expand their businesses.

April 28, 2017
| By Pat Evans |
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A key in building a small company is knowing the right people, and Rockford Construction has set out to help minority-, women-, disability- and veteran-owned trade contractors expand their businesses.

Rockford’s Dimensions program recently wrapped up its first eight-week session, which graduated 15 companies, and left them with an opportunity to bid on 25 projects and connected them with “navigators” that will continue to work with them.

Rockford CEO Mike VanGessel said the success of the first class will be closely monitored, especially during the next 70 days.

Dimensions stems from a program started 20 years ago by Rockford called Thursday Group, but VanGessel believes there is an opportunity to be more intentional and integrated this time around.

“It went away, but we started to look at things again, and we thought we had the capacity to be more formal about it,” VanGessel said. “This is not by any means all about Rockford Construction, it’s about the companies committed to coming to the classes and us sharing the knowledge and creating multiple relationships.

“We’re just trying to build relationships and introduce them to opportunities and overcome obstacles.”

VanGessel said starting a company can be a challenge, as owners have to balance selling their services and executing. Sometimes, sales suffer because new relationships aren’t being built constantly, which he hopes to help solve with Dimensions.

Also at the crux of the program is furthering the network of trade contractors Rockford, and other general contractors, can work with during a time when skilled labor is at a premium.

“As an industry, we continue to experience a shortage of skilled trade contractors,” said Brad Mathis, Rockford’s community development director and co-facilitator of Dimensions. “When we have local businesses right here within our community, it’s our responsibility to do what we can to support their effort.”

Fifteen companies participated in Dimensions: Building Bridges Professional Services, R&R Mechanical, Cross Contracting, Top Notch Painting, Todd McLemore, Martin Remodel, Howell’s Snowplow and Lawn Care, Monster Coatings, Ellis Construction, Sanchez Drywall, BSC Data Cabling Solutions, MoHawk Construction Group, PJ’s Lawn Care and Snowplow, TorresWorks Construction and Monte Cristo Electric.

“Rockford is making a visible commitment to diversifying its pool of subcontractors, and this program is a great way to extend a hand to smaller companies,” R&R Mechanical Services Partner Ruben Ramos said. “One of the main goals of the program is also to build relationships, and I look forward to continue in building relationships with the people I meet.”

More than 600 Rockford man-hours were dedicated to the program, including class topics taught by Vice President of Finance Brian Wierenga, Executive Vice President Jennifer Boezwinkle and President of Construction Shane Napper.

At the end of the program, along with the ability to bid on 25 projects and being set up with a navigator, the graduates were given memberships to the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce and Associated Builders and Contractors, access to Economic Club of Grand Rapids luncheons and a subscription to the Business Journal.

“We want to get them access to the community and social capital,” VanGessel said.

The navigators will be the companies’ direct connection to Rockford, whether they are trying to get work, get paid or just get a cup of coffee to talk about opportunities.

VanGessel hopes to hold the program annually, but acknowledges he will keep a watchful eye on how successful the first class is. Rockford will do what it can to help the companies continue to grow, but the onus will be on the contractors to execute their part.

“We want to make sure this round has traction and success,” he said. “We have to make sure we have the impact we want with this first round. At this point, we have to keep watering it and putting sunlight on it to make sure it’s healthy and grows.

“We’re doing a lot of exciting projects, and when you’re going into neighborhoods, you want to work with as many people as you can that are local. It’s the circle you want to develop and keep the local spending close to the area to contractors and businesses you hope to help and build.”

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