The Greater Washington Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (GWHCC) and Metro DC Hispanic Contractors Association (MDCHCA) just completed the first phase of a process created to increase the share of construction business that accrues to small, locally based sub-contractors in the Washington DC region.
The process began in a February 15th breakfast with a frank discussion among construction project owners, large general contractors and representatives of small businesses and construction workers. These parties gathered for a 2 hour roundtable debate on best practices, inefficiencies in the process, lack of CBE capacity and the deficiencies and scarcity of highly qualified firms along with a dearth of skilled workers.
The Contractors and the GWHCC continued their effort to create better pathways for employment at a follow up meeting on March 16th designated a 'matchmaking' session as part of the annual GWHCC Business Expo. At this second meeting roughly 2 dozen small businesses got to share their concerns with the same large project owners and general contractors in the region who attended the breakfast. Among the organizations that participated in this collaboration were: DC's Dept. of General Services (DGS) and the Dept. of Small & Local Business Development, CHOICE, a building trades union program, PEPCO, Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA), Clark Construction, Fort Myer Construction, Gilbane Construction, Grunley Construction, Turner Construction and Whiting Turner Construction.
The builders argued that the current system for including small businesses, labeled Certified Business Enterprises (CBE) in the District of Columbia, in their projects was inefficient, raised costs and in some cases damaged project deadlines and quality of work. Greer Gillis, Director of DGS, which does most of the hiring of construction firms for capital projects in the District, discussed the local content and first source laws and reminded everyone of their obligations under the current CBE program. Nevertheless, she also added that there is an often used 'waiver' process that small contractors claim can be used to circumvent these requirements.
But it's not that simple! It's difficult to find small and medium sized DC based construction companies who can provide specialized services in the mechanical, electrical and plumbing fields with capacity to carry out large scale commercial projects. Crystal Canje who represented MWAA during the meetings pointed out that they have similar problems locating qualified firms throughout the region who can fulfill their specifications. They regularly carry out workshops and outreach programs to find and train these companies.
Recently the District has inaugurated an 'Infrastructure Academy' designed to alleviate some of these issues and various other programs such as Project 500 and the Rosario School's 'Construye DC' are addressing this need. Various general contractors such as Turner and Clark have invested in certificate programs to find and train construction companies in basic management and administration skills. Numerous other programs provide individual trade skills instruction to improve the proficiency level of local residents. PEPCO sub-contractor DCI (owned by MDCHCA Board Member Pedro Alfonso) carries out an extensive training program at its headquarters to prepare local workers to carry out specialized tasks in pipefitting, electrical, gas installation and maintenance and construction site safety.
Metro DC Hispanic Contractors Association is dedicated to finding remedies to the obstacles that stand in the way of opportunities for small companies in the construction field. We are committed to improving the hiring process for small businesses, generating wealth creation and economic opportunities for our African American and Latino communities in the construction and commercial contracting fields. We will continue to explore ways in which to improve hiring processes and improve the relationships between large and small construction contractors.