ABC Advances Women Minorities

August 29, 2003
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GRAND RAPIDS — The West Michigan Chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC/WMC) wants to help minorities and women advance in the field.

“We have an emerging contractor handbook that we’ve developed. We have national ABC diversity programs. We have a mentoring program. All these programs are designed to try and bring minorities and contractors into the loop,” said Todd Oosting, ABC/WMC president.

Oosting’s comments were in response to the city of Grand Rapids’ decision to drop at the end of this year a program mandating participation for contracting firms owned by minorities and women in publicly funded projects.

The city’s decision to do that was based on recent court action that struck down such standards, and from extensive talks it held with members of the building trades.

He said ABC/WMC was aware of the city’s decision and the process that went into it.

Local construction leaders, including representatives of ABC/WMC, regularly met with members of the city’s Equal Opportunity Department before the race- and gender-neutral policy was announced. West Michigan Minority Contractors Association President Terrell Daniels, an ABC/WMC board member, also participated in the discussions.

“They met on every Monday to, I guess, give the city a realistic idea of what the goals should be adjusted to. This is something that we have lived with and really tried to put a lot of energy into,” said Oosting.

“The city actually has adjusted the goals. We didn’t have anything to do with it other than sitting on this board and giving them our information,” he added.

“It’s something very near and dear to us, and we worked hard at trying to come up with a workable plan.”

Oosting said that ABC/WMC hasn’t taken an official position on the new city policy. But he did say the organization was making an effort to bring minorities and females together with white contractors through social events, such as last month’s annual golf outing, and through various publications and programs.

“As far as an official goal for our members, no,” he said. “We wouldn’t do that.”

He said it wouldn’t be appropriate for an organization like ABC/WMC to create a goal-oriented program of its own.

“The city has a goal,” he said. “The city established those things. They have information on a race-neutral program that is working in other parts of the world and it would be interesting to see what they do.

“But as far as ABC having a program, no,” he added. “We’re trying all the other ways.”

Since the early 1980s the city has had in place some type of goal-oriented program that required white contractors to hire a certain percent of minority and women subcontractors on projects that were funded with public dollars. The most recent, the Minority and Women Business Enterprise program, has been in effect since 1991.

That program required that 11 percent of a public project be awarded to minority-owned firms and 1 percent go to companies owned by females. Earlier this year, the city lowered the minority share to 9 percent to reflect the portion of the local industry that minorities now represent.

But starting in January race and gender requirements will be dropped from all bids on public projects. The city will test and evaluate the new policy throughout next year.

ABC/WMC was formed in 1956. It has 545 members, which makes it the sixth largest of the 81 ABC chapters in the nation.

Oosting emphasized that ABC/WMC was taking an active role to get minorities and women more involved in the local industry.

“It’s something that we are putting a lot of energy into and it’s important to us,” he said. “We want to make an effort to bring women-owned and minority business contractors into the fold as much as we can.”   

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