American DBE Magazine - Summer 2021

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Summer 2021

Construction CEO and Author Mel Gravely Pens “Dear White Friend”

CKL Engineers, LLC CEO Overcomes Tough Start

Skanska Helps DBEs Build Capacity in L.A.

CHPlanning Grows With Nspiregreen Acquisition

Ajegba Leads MDOT Through

$3.5 Billion

Chicago Transit Authority Wins APTA Awards for Excellence and Equity

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CHPlanning Expands Mission and Growth By Acquistion of Nspiregreen Construction CEO Gravely Writes “Dear White Friend” to Discuss Equity by Peggy Beach


Skanska Civil Helps DBEs Build Capacity in L.A.

by Sarah Magargee

DBE Program Spotlight


Kansas City Airport New Terminal Making Economic Impact


Business Development




PHL’s Kathleen Padilla Receives 2021 ACI-NA Leon C. Watkins Guardian Award

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CTA President Dorval Carter Leads Agency to Industry Awards for Excellence and Equity


Director Ajegba Leads MDOT to Greater Equity During “Rebuilding Michigan” Program

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Legal Challenges to COVID-19 for Disadvantaged Businesses by Colette Holt, J.D. and Joanne Lubart, J.D.

by Sarah Magargee


CKL Engineers, LLC CEO Whiteside Inspires as a Catalyst for Change


Three Ways to Get the Most from Your DBE Certification by Lorraine D’Angelo


AGC & Procore Technologies Launch New Scholarship

26 Summer 2021 Volume VIII - Issue 3 Publisher Shelton A. Russell

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Headquarters 514 Daniels Street, #186 Raleigh, NC 27605 Website About American DBE Magazine American DBE Magazine is the premier industry resource for individuals and stakeholders who work in the infrastructure, construction and transportation industries. American DBE Magazine is published quarterly and distributed in all 50 states— plus Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands—to DBE program administrators, business owners, and professionals in the Aviation, Highway Construction and Public Transit industries.

Subscriptions American DBE Magazine is published quarterly in Fall, Winter, Spring and Summer editions. The annual subscription rate is $24.99 including online editions, special industry reports, and four issues: single copy list price is $6.99 plus postage originating from Raleigh, North Carolina.

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400+ Firms mentored by Austin have received contracts exceeding $3 billion. Austin Commercial is committed to recognizing, embracing, and supporting workplace diversity. As a construction industry leader, Austin takes pride in creating minority economic opportunities.

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From the publisher

In Search of Excellence... and Equity “In Search of Excellence: Lessons from America’s Best-Run Companies” by Thomas J. Peters and Robert H. Waterman, Jr. is one of the most influential business books of all time. The book was a national bestseller and helped organizations and entrepreneurs better understand the key components of running an excellent business. Although some of the companies highlighted in the book failed to continue their excellence into the future, many of the concepts provided in the book still hold true today. Although it’s been 40 years since the book was published on Jan. 1, 1982, major businesses and organizations are still in search of excellence; and the best organizations have realized that equity is now a key component of becoming excellent and maintaining excellence. In today’s socio-economic and business environment, organizations that don’t put equity at the core of their business values will rot, from the inside out, just like a fruit that rots from the core.


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This issue of American DBE celebrates individuals and organizations in search of excellence, including equity. The cover story for this issue features Melvin Gravely II, CEO of Triversity Construction, based in Cincinnati, Ohio. Gravely is the author of “Dear White Friend,” a book that shares his heartfelt ideas on how his white business friends, and thereby all white business leaders, can help their organizations and our country become excellent by doing the work of equity building. Gravely has led Triversity Construction to become one of the largest minority-owned companies in the Greater Cincinnati Region, with revenues in the neighborhood of $100 million. Other feature stories highlight the Los Angeles Office of Skanska USA and its efforts to increase equity through growing the capacity of diverse companies on major infrastructure projects at Los Angeles World Airport, L.A. Metro, and the City of Los Angeles. CHPlanning Ltd., a Philadelphia-based consulting firm, highlights a professional services DBE firm growing equity by increasing capacity through the acquisition of Nspiregreen LLC, located in Washington, D.C. The final feature story highlights the upcoming virtual National Business Leadership Summit on Oct. 5-7, an event for DBE firms, major infrastructure industry companies, and government agencies to discuss the trends, resources and upcoming opportunities to improve equity in the completion of large infrastructure projects across the country. Other stories in this issue highlight industry leaders, agencies and DBEs at the forefront of equity building. These include Chicago Transit Authority and CTA President Dorval R. Carter Jr.; the Michigan Department of Transportation and Director Paul C. Ajegba, P.E.; Kansas City International Airport (KCI) and Kansas City Human Relations Director Andrea C. Dorch; Philadelphia International Airport and Deputy Director of Aviation for Diversity & Inclusion Kathleen Padilla; and DBE firm CKL Engineers, led by Mae. C. Whitehead, based in Chicago, Illinois. These stories provide testimony that organizations can be excellent and equitable simultaneously. In fact, they demonstrate one of the reasons they are excellent is because they make equity a core value

within the organization. Please enjoy this issue of American DBE Magazine. I hope you also will share it with your colleagues in the industry and reach out to me at with your suggestions on how American DBE Magazine can help grow equity in the infrastructure and transportation industry.

Peace and blessings,

Shelton A. Russell, Publisher American DBE Magazine

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CHPlanning Expands

Growth and Community Empowerment Mission

with Nspiregreen Acquisition

It is a well-worn adage

that small diverse firms should consider the use of strategies like joint-ventures, strategic partnerships and business acquisitions to build capacity and market share. However, it remains a rare occurrence to see DBEs and other diverse firms use these tools to foster business growth. In most cases, diverse firms grow organically, by increasing their employee base and assets as contract revenues increase to meet the demand for their services. CHPlanning, a Philadelphia-based urban planning and environment consulting firm founded by Charnelle Hicks in 1988, pursued this standard process for growth during its first 30 years of business. The firm methodically built a solid reputation with clients from the public and private sector. Oftentimes, successful projects working for a government agency or private company led to new opportunities, based on their quality performance on previous work. The COVID-19 pandemic changed CHPlanning’s positive trajectory in 2020 when work dried up due to many airports canceling or delaying projects in the pipeline, causing CHPlanning owner Charnelle Hicks to look for other ways to maintain profitability and continue to grow the company. “I was still committed to growing the company and finding opportunities to keep our managers and employees working on meaningful projects,” Hicks said.


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Charnelle Hicks-Gungor, President & CEO of CHPlanning Ltd. & Nspiregreen, LLC.

Hicks recalled a conversation she had several years earlier with Veronica Davis, one of the founders of NSpiregreen, LLC, a Washington, D.C.-based firm very similar to CHPlanning. Davis had mentioned that she and her partner, Chanceé Lundy, were interested in moving on from the business to pursue other options. Hicks reached out to see if the owners were still interested in selling the firm; and after getting a positive response, the two parties began working on a deal for CHPlanning to acquire Nspiregreen. “It was really a match made in heaven,” Hicks said. “Nspiregreen was not as heavily involved in the airport industry and had a backlog of work, while we had staff that were not working due to the pandemic.” The two parties used a business broker to work out the details of the purchase and to create a win-win transaction for the two parties. The deal was completed in January 2021 and NSpiregreen became a wholly-owned

subsidiary of CHPlanning. “We’ve combined and shared resources between the two firms and are still making some new hires, but we’ve come up with a nice balance for the managers and staff at both companies,” Hicks said. The combined companies provide consulting services in municipal planning, transportation planning, environmental planning, and community outreach programs for public and private clients throughout the United States. The firms are DBE/MBE/WBE certified in multiple states across the Northeast, Midwest and Southern states.

Uncharted Territory Hicks recognizes that it is rare for a minority-owned firm – and especially a minority woman-owned firm – to acquire another firm by purchase. Although she has witnessed minority-owned firms acquired through inheritance, she said there was no blueprint or model for what she was able to do in acquiring NSpiregreen. “The biggest challenge is raising the capital to make the purchase, but I’ve always been conservative financially and make a conscious decision to conserve cash during the pandemic,” Hicks said. This move provided the cash resources to reach a deal that was acceptable to the previous owners of Nspiregreen and the ability

to incorporate the operations of the new firm under the CHPlanning umbrella. Another challenge Hicks faced was identifying an acquisition partner willing to sell the business to a new owner. She said: “A lot of pride goes into starting a business, so it is a challenge when founders are involved. However, it was wonderful to find a company where the founders and I were so well aligned in our vision and mission.” Despite this challenge, Hicks has a sense of responsibility in making sure she honors the legacy created by Davis and Lundy at Nspiregreen and maintains the trust of the existing employees who made a commitment to stay with the company. “Veronica Davis and Chanceé Lundy will always be the founders of Nspiregreen, and their reputations will continue to be attached to what CHPlanning and I do with that company,” Hicks said.

Forging Ahead Hicks is excited about the direction of her company coming out of the pandemic and about the next phase of her entrepreneurial journey. The firm recently reached a critical milestone in its strategic plan by completed the tasks of aligning the systems of the two companies, creating a unified employee handbook, and moving forward on uniting cultures of the two companies. These steps

are in line with Hicks’ next goal following the acquisition on Nspiregreen. “Internal to the business, my goal is to be less entrepreneurial, and what I mean by that is I want to have a company with systems in place to be sustainable for the long term. I want the business to outlive me,” she said. Both companies are positioned well to thrive as the U.S. Congress completes negotiations to pass a new infrastructure bill in 2021, projected to fund significant transportation and other critical improvements across the country. The companies plan to capitalize on their longstanding relationships with state and local governments, transportation agencies, and industry leading consulting firms to secure new business opportunities. “Externally, my goal is for the company to establish itself as a national leader in community planning; focused on sustainability, mobility and environmental planning. There aren’t many small African American-owned companies that do what we do,” Hicks said. Developing strong and productive partnerships is foundational to Hicks’ approach to business success. She has always sought out opportunities to work with other small and mid-sized consulting firms and sees the acquisition of Nspiregreen as a next step in business partnership. Hicks also values and strives to strengthen her company’s relationships with its larger business partners. Both CHPlanning and Nspiregreen work with very large firms on multi-year capital

CHPlanning helped Lower Marion Township in Pennsylvania win the 2017 Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Planning Association award for Best Comprehensive Plan.

development programs for infrastructure. “Jacobs is just one of our great prime consultants. They are one of the companies walking the walk when it comes to economic inclusion. It works for them, and it certainly works for us,” Hicks said. Both CHPlanning and Nspiregreen are currently working on projects with Jacobs, including the Philadelphia International Airport Capital Enhancement Program, Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority (WMATA) Transit Hubs (scooter, bike and pedestrian program), and the Maryland Department of Transportation Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (On-Call Planning Program).

Looking Back and Giving Back Hicks had no idea she would be where she is today while growing up in public housing in Pittsburgh’s Hill District as a child. The Hill District struggled for decades with varying levels of dilapidation and crime, and about 40 percent of the Hill District’s residents live below poverty level. The surroundings offered little hope for a bright future, but things changed when her mother moved the family to a working-class rural area outside of Philadelphia. The new setting offered better educational opportunities and exposure to events that would impact her direction and chosen career. The local power company serving the rural area decided to put a nuclear power plant nearby largely due to the relatively inexpensive land value. “I didn’t know what to call it then … I look back at it as my first exposure to an environmental justice issue as a young person,” Hicks said. This experience stayed with her as she graduated high school and went to Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania. Her college work-study program introduced her to a summer job making $5.15 per hour at an engineering firm. “At that firm, for the first time, I learned that urban planning was a valid career choice. I had never heard of it before, but decided that was the way I wanted to go,” Hicks said. After finishing her undergraduate degree at Swarthmore College, she went on to earn a master’s degree in urban planning from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, America’s first urban planning program. “The rest is history,” she said.

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Today, after a successful 30-year career in the industry, Hicks uses her experience to understand the best way to encourage other young people to enter planning and engineering careers. “I try to mentor young people and provide the exposure I was able to receive when I was in school,” she said. “We really have to look around, reach out, and build real long-standing relationships with young people and offer them help and encouragement to enter this career field. That’s how we make a difference, through building relationships with the next generation.”

Nspiregreen developed concepts for a protected bicycle lane within Sherman Circle in Washington, D.C.

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Black Construction CEO Writes Book to White Friends on Racial Equity By Peggy Beach

opportunities may come because of formal or informal inclusion efforts by government agencies or private corporations. However, the black CEO also knows his business will miss many more opportunities solely based on perceptions on race. Indeed, it’s a mixed bag.

Melvin Gravely II, CEO of Triversity Construction and author of “Dear White Friend”

Melvin Gravely II, an African American CEO of a construction company, confronts the realities and intricacies of race daily. He and his team understand that their company may win some opportunities solely based on the quality of their work, while other 14

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Gravely lives with this reality as he leads Triversity Construction Group, a $100 million firm based in Cincinnati, Ohio, that specializes in commercial and medical facility construction. His company’s successful performance has led to him becoming a community leader in Cincinnati; serving on various committees and boards, and becoming a leader of significant community organizations like the Greater Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce, the Regional Economic Development Initiative and the Cincinnati Regional Business Committee. These opportunities and engagements often put him in close working relationships with white colleagues, and to an extent, he is a welcomed and respected part of their business world. As high-profile, racially-charged events unfolded over the past several years during the Trump presidency, then culminated in 2020 with the murder of George Floyd by police officers in Minnesota, and exposed further

Gravely’s new book, “Dear White Friend”

disparities from a global pandemic, Gravely reflected on his experiences as a black man and a leader in his community while adhering to stay-at-home restrictions and attending countless virtual meetings. His downtime and growing frustrations with the racial discourse and growing tensions made him feel the time was right to express his thoughts to the white friends that know him, but probably not as well as they think. His resulting expression is now an Amazon best-selling book titled “Dear White Friend.” It is Gravely’s ninth book. Some of his previous titles include “The Capacity to Succeed,” “When Black and White Make Green” and “The Black Entrepreneur’s Guide to Success.”

“Dear White Friend: The Realities of Race, the Power of Relationships, and Our Path to Equity” (Greenleaf Book Group Press, 2021), is a collection of 19 letters written to white friends asking them to consider what role they can play to end racism. Gravely told an interviewer that he felt a “sense of urgency” after the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia and George Floyd in Minnesota in 2020. Gravely also had attended a diversity workshop in Cincinnati conducted by the Racial Equity Institute of Greensboro, North Carolina, in 2019. He described in the book how he found the workshop interesting, but it left him with many questions. He wanted more answers. When he was a teenager, Gravely attended a mostly white junior high school. He learned to assimilate in the prevailing culture, to focus on achievement and align with the expectations of the majority white culture. Throughout his academic and professional journey, talking about race has been uncomfortable for him and others. However, the inability to talk

about race has led to many problems. Racism has persisted, said Gravely, because no one wants to feel uncomfortable. He believes that must change. Gravely suggests that the label “racist” is too strong a label and that its use ends conversations instead of opening discussions. He writes that while white people today did not create the system of racism that still exists in America, white people are “benefiting bystanders.” White people see the negative outcomes of racism, but simultaneously benefit from its systematic use. Gravely said he believes that black people have a different contract with America. The Declaration of Independence, for example, was written for white people only because Black people were thought of as less than whites. While Black people have the same rights as whites, said Gravely, in practice, the rights of blacks have not been “unalienable.” He asserted that Black people historically have

been expected to delay their interests so white people can have their interests. He urges whites to acknowledge that systematic racism exists because the disparities between blacks and whites cannot be explained away simply as bad behavior. Gravely said that foundational systems such as housing, education, voting rights, wealth and the criminal justice system need to be addressed. A key concept Gravely suggests is for America to concentrate its effort on addressing the disparities between whites and blacks because, historically, the country has operated with “whites on top, blacks on the bottom, and everyone else in between.” He believes as the country confronts this fundamental challenge to creating equity between blacks and whites, other underrepresented groups will be included in the process. However, he notes that history shows that addressing other groups instead of blacks usually leaves blacks behind.

Melvin Gravely II (center) shares a moment at the “Dear White Friend” book launch event with Marcus Smith (l), his research assistant for writing the book, and Dean Kuroff, his neighbor and friend.

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In the interest of full disclosure, Gravely admits that everything is not about race and that voicing frustration is often more comfortable than offering solutions. He also admits that things are better than in the past. However, he thinks it is clear systems are still in place that discriminate against blacks. For example, it is often harder for black people to trust the health care system, as it has a questionable past in providing adequate care for minorities. In his book, he asks: What can be done to bridge the gaps between the races? Gravely encourages both blacks and whites to “start in their own sphere.” If you are in business, use your business to further equity. If you run a nonprofit, use it to further equality. He said we each have a sphere of influence that we can use to contribute to the values, practices, policies and activities of the organization. Everyone can develop organizational fluency by engaging leadership, managers and employees within organizations in regular training and development to create a climate of change. A key component to furthering equality is to teach children to learn about race from the start, Gravely said; adding that the topic of race should not be a taboo subject – children should be taught to deal with race in confident and productive ways. He urges all people to

Melvin Gravely II, CEO of Triversity Construction, answers questions about his book, “Dear White Friend,” at a book launch event in Cincinnati, Ohio.

be open to teaching children to value differences, to gain understanding, and to question assumptions. This is important for adults as well. Gravely encourages both blacks and whites to continue to learn about the impacts of race in our society and to read books by black authors, like Thurgood Marshall, Madam C.J. Walker and Malcolm X. Within his own network, Gravely is urging people to ask more questions and question what they hear. For example, why are armed white men marching on a state Capitol considered less threatening than unarmed black men marching and protesting in the street? Gravely believes white people rarely discuss race among themselves and said that making race a topic of conversation between blacks and whites can create a collective opportunity to promote effective change.

While Gravely admits that his book may be difficult to read at times, his ultimate goals are to increase awareness and commitment to equity. He is a black CEO who spends much of his time with whites, many of whom he considers friends. It is the power of these relationships that Gravely believes is key to establishing equality in America.

Subscribe today! Visit us at: Triversity Construction completed construction of the Hybrid Operating Room at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. The project consisted of converting a storage room into the America’s first Azurion hybrid operating room, allowing for ultrasound, CT guidance and live x-ray imaging procedures to be available during surgical procedures, thereby reducing the risk of complications while saving time and money. (Photo courtesy of Triversity Construction)


/ Summer 2021


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Skanska Civil Helps Diverse Firms Build Capacity in Los Angeles

A Skanska project manager leads DBE firms through a job walk on the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority Regional Connector Project in 2019.

Skanska currently has four major infrastructure projects in metropolitan Los Angeles totaling over $3.6 billion and is leveraging the projects to build greater capacity among Disadvantaged Business Enterprises and other diverse firms in the region. The continued growth of capacity in this community will be essential as the region prepares to ramp up construction to host the 2028 Olympic Games and in connection to the passage of a new national infrastructure bill. 18

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The Los Angeles Regional Office of Skanska Civil (Skanska) is combining development programs like the Small Business Bootcamp and PLA & Workforce Diversity Townhall Series with s i g n i f i c a n t p ro j e c t opportunities to prepare firms for growth, and then offer opportunities to apply their skills. These efforts are helping Skanska attract subcontractors to exceed goals established by clients such as Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transit Authority (LA Metro), the City of Los Angeles and Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA). Contracts to diverse firms on the four major projects exceed $586 million so far, with work remaining to be completed. The contracts include the L.A. Metro $2 billion Westside Purple Line Extension and $1 billion Regional Connector projects; the City of Los Angeles $270 million Sixth Street Viaduct project; and the LAWA $300 million Roadway Enabling and Utility project.

Small Business Bootcamp Skanska offered its first Small Business Bootcamp to diverse subcontractors in 2015 in preparation for the LA Metro Westside Purple Line project, another class in 2016 for the LA Metro Regional Connector project, and then a virtual session in 2020 for the LAWA Roadway Enabling and Utility project. The bootcamp is an 8-week session held one evening per week, and covers subjects like estimating, billing, project management and project labor agreements. The course is open to any small

business interested in gaining information and potentially working with Skanska on a project. One of the highlights of the course is a mock bidding component where students prepare a sample bid package and submit it for review by Skanska professionals. After the bids are evaluated, students receive a debrief of their package to understand what they did well, along with an assessment of areas where their bid package can be improved. “The students get a lot out of the mock bid session and debriefing because it gives them an opportunity to put their knowledge into practice,” Skanska Civil DBE & Outreach Manager Teresa Maxwell said. The bootcamp is a key strategy for Skanska staff to network with potential subcontractors and get to know more about these companies. Although contracts aren’t guaranteed for participants in the program, many companies completing the program win contracts working on Skanska projects.

PLA and Workforce Diversity Town Hall Meetings Skanska launched a series of meetings called ‘PLA and Workforce Diversity Town Hall Meetings’ to provide education and resources to small businesses related to successfully managing the requirements of working under a project labor agreement (PLA). The four major projects under construction by Skanska are covered by a PLA between the owner agencies, labor unions and all contractors working on

the projects. PLAs can be challenging for small diverse firms, especially if they are unaccustomed to working with labor unions. The virtual town hall meetings have been held monthly during 2021. Maxwell said: “Our first six sessions were all about workforce recruitment and how to locate women, minority and disadvantaged workers. Our next group of sessions are covering workforce retention, so small businesses can learn ways to keep diverse workers on the job.”

Reducing Barriers through Outreach and Contracting Strategies In addition to the educational initiatives, Skanska is using some effective strategies to help subcontractors get contracts. One strategy is considering where large subcontracts can be broken down into several smaller contracts to help businesses meet bonding requirements. In some cases, Skanska project staff evaluated the risk and determined that bonding wasn’t necessary on work items and waived the bonding requirement for subcontractors. These strategies have helped firms increase their bonding capacity through completed bonded projects within their bonding limit and then leveraging the completed projects to encourage the bonding company to increase their bonding limit. In other cases, waiving the bonding requirement allowed firms that / Summer 2021


Proudly awarded $603M in contracts since 2014 to DBEs in Los Angeles


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416 Disadvantaged Business Enterprises (DBEs) contracts awarded Over 9M craft hours with 6.6M minority workforce hours

otherwise would be unable to work on the project to get experience working on a major infrastructure job.

Small Business Success Story One of several success stories to come from Skanska’s efforts is Jacqueline Pruitt, president and CEO of Marvella Steel Placers. Pruitt participated in the first Small Business Bootcamp in 2015 while working as a journeyman and general foreman for another rebar company. “I learned a lot in the bootcamp; about billing, scheduling and about opportunities on the Purple Line,” she said. Pruitt also met more experienced contractors who gave encouragement and advice on starting her own business. One of those contractors, Kevin Ramsey, CEO of Alameda Construction Services, would become her mentor. “He told me to get my contractor’s license and I started working on pulling the information together to take the exam,” Pruitt said. “He was also the first person I called after I got it.”

Pruitt credits the training she received from the bootcamp program and the L.A. Metro Contractor Development and Bonding Program for giving her the tools needed to succeed. “That’s where I got most of my education from, those two programs,” she said. She believes the most important factor in her growing success has been the ability to apply the tools she learned in training classes to real-life projects. “I have been able to apply the skills I learned in billing, scheduling, performing and closing out the project. Skanska has been one of the few larger contractors that is really out to help small businesses. They show a true desire to help you succeed,” she said.

Pruitt has maintained the relationship since the 2015 class and considers Ramsey a mentor. “He’s been in the game for quite a while now, and he knows the ins and the outs. He’s been there and he answers my calls. Any questions I have, he will take some time and we’ll go in his office, he will take out some paper and explain it all, down to stick figures if he needs to,” she said.

Skanska Senior Vice President and General Manager of the California Region James Bailey said: “At Skanska, we’re committed to adding to our company’s diverse team by subcontracting meaningful scopes of work to minority, women-owned, veteran, disadvantaged and small businesses. Teresa’s (Maxwell) local-hire programs ensure our projects are built by the people who live and play in those communities. Our team is dedicated to this effort, which you see through the collaborative work to solve some of the most challenging and complex projects in construction. I believe having diverse vendors and talent is not only a great economic and cultural benefit; it is a driving force to finding the best solutions.”

Marvella Steel Placers has steadily grown since 2016, largely from the opportunity to work on Skanska projects. The company is DBE certified and is currently working on the L.A. Metro Westside Purple Line Extension and Regional Connector projects. The company recently signed a contract to work on the LAWA Roadway Enabling and Utility project.

Maxwell knows the support and assistance Skanska gives to DBE subcontractors helps these companies grow and expand their capacity. She is also aware that this effort is a win/win business proposition because Skanska relies on quality subcontractors to help the company complete projects and meet the requirements of its clients. “We do

(Below) Jacqueline Pruitt, President & CEO of Marvella Steel Placers, worked on the Exposition Light Rail Transit Phase 2 Design/ Build Project as an apprentice in 2015.

this because we are better together,” Maxwell said. “We need our subs to be successful. Some of them do real specialty work or have been working in these local areas for so long. We need them on our team, and they are so important. We need them to succeed.”

Skanska USA Civil Compliance and Outreach Manager Teresa Maxwell

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BTG to Host Virtual

National Small Business Leadership Summit DBEs across the country

are hopeful and anxious to participate in business opportunities coming from a new infrastructure bill and other federal initiatives to address long-standing under-investment in highways, public transit, aviation and more critical needs. However, many diverse firms are not up-to-speed on industry trends, legislation and major projects that will offer significant contracting opportunities in the upcoming months and years. This need created the impetus for a virtual National Small Business Leadership Summit scheduled for Oct. 5-7, 2021, to provide timely information to diverse firms across the country that will position them to take advantage of the upcoming opportunities. Hosted by Business Transformation Group (BTG), the upcoming summit will provide half-day sessions on three consecutive days using the Zoom platform with the goal of increasing the readiness and participation of diverse businesses in major infrastructure projects by providing information they need to know to be successful. “We want to make sure businesses have a broader national view of what’s happening regarding industry trends, federal legislation that will impact their business, and how major projects may offer new opportunities for business growth,” Joe Lewis, principal of Business Transformation Group, said. Although the summit is an inaugural event, Lewis expects it will be a catalyst and platform for a continuing dialogue within the government, infrastructure development industry, and diverse business community. The focus is on delivering the best strategies and


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processes to increase equity and inclusion in major infrastructure projects planning, design and construction.

Industry Outlook and Trends The first component of the summit will look at three emerging industry trends impacting the industry and creating new business opportunities - autonomous vehicles, innovative project procurement models, and digital project development (E-Construction). Former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Rodney Slater will kick off this session, sharing his expertise on the planned growth of autonomous vehicles in the country and the impacts on the design and development of future infrastructure systems. Slater is a partner at Squire Patton Boggs law firm based in Washington, D.C. This session also will explore the growing use of new project procurement models such as preliminary development agreements (PDA) and progressive public-private partnerships (P3s). These new models are coming into play just as small and diverse firms begin to fully comprehend the impact of P3s and design-build procurement methods on their business operations. E-Construction is another trend that will soon impact small and diverse businesses as the use of computer software and internetbased tools will lead to a paperless process for the design and construction of major infrastructure projects from now on. The trend will require small firms to invest in computer hardware and software systems to participate effectively in the design and construction.

“All of these trends will have an impact on how small and DBE firms participate in major projects in the future,” Lewis said. “We want to help facilitate the exchange of the right information to business owners now, so they can begin to prepare and not be left behind when opportunities happen.”

Legislation with Opportunity for Diverse Firms Participants in the summit will get updated information on legislation and presidential executive orders poised to create opportunities for diverse firms. A new infrastructure bill was recently passed in the Senate on Aug. 10 and advanced to the House of Representatives. With $550 billion in new federal spending, the measure would provide $65 billion to expand high-speed internet access; $110 billion for roads, bridges and other projects; and $25 billion for airports. The new package should provide the funding for an unprecedented level of spending to modernize transportation systems across the country and include a reauthorization of the federal DBE Program requiring that recipients of federal funding provide opportunities for Disadvantaged Business Enterprises to participate in the work. The summit agenda plans to examine the implications of President Biden’s Justice 40 Initiative from Executive Order 14008 that requires recommendations from government agencies to ensure that 40 percent of the overall benefits of climate change initiatives flow to disadvantaged communities. The components will focus on investments in the areas of clean energy and energy efficiency; clean transit; affordable and sustainable housing; training and workforce development; the remediation and reduction of legacy pollution; and the development of critical clean water infrastructure. A panel of experts will discuss strategies for diverse firms to be positioned to participate in the opportunities coming from this executive order.

Business Opportunities Through the Greenwood Project Taking its name from the Greenwood District of Tulsa, Oklahoma, better known as “Black Wall Street,” the summit will explore steps to create a national network and database of diverse firms that are ready, willing and able to participate in large infrastructure development projects. The Greenwood Project will serve as a small business ecosystem where collaboration, engagement and growth potential merge on its own virtual platform. The BTG-powered platform will help firms stay abreast of upcoming opportunities across the country, assess their capability to work on these projects, and connect with large contractors seeking partners to work with. “We are leveraging the lessons learned from more than a decade of work on major infrastructure projects valued at more than $30 billion to launch a new tool that can help DBEs connect the dots and effectively participate in upcoming major projects. During this time, we saw no one paying attention to those minority firms who need the marketing prowess to cross multiple states and successfully expand,” Lewis said. According to Lewis, this platform creates a virtual place where diverse firms can periodically learn about national projects, timelines and potential needs of large design and construction firms pursuing the work. BTG leadership hopes this broader, nationwide focus creates greater opportunities for major infrastructure projects for diverse firms seeking a cost-effective way to grow. “We want DBEs to see the need to grow and develop so they are ready for these opportunities, so they can participate and grow their wealth – because that’s where the wealth is made, on these major projects,” Lewis said. This content is timely, also featuring future infrastructure projects such as the HireLAX Program, the Interstate Bridge Replacement Program, and the Hitachi Rail Project.

go beyond presenting anecdotal information that is useful, but doesn’t give measurable data that businesses can use to plan for the future and make strategic investments. This summit will do that.” Registration for the BTG

Summit is open on the event website https:// The first 50 registrants will receive a branded background image to upload and use on Zoom during the virtual half-day event.

Right: Business Transformation Group (BTG) President & CEO Joe Lewis will lead a national discussion on the trends and opportunities for small and diverse companies in the transportation industry at the National Small Business Leadership Summit.

Data-Driven Information BTG plans for the summit to use data analytics to accurately demonstrate the impacts and opportunities of the industry trends shared on Day 1 of the summit and show the full scope of industry projects that a new infrastructure bill will create for diverse firms. Lewis said: “The summit will

Left: Former U.S. Transportation Secretary and law firm Squire Patton Boggs partner Rodney Slater will discuss the role electric vehicles and rail will play on the future of U.S. infrastructure development and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions at the National Small Business Leadership Summit.

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PROUD TO GIVE BUSINESSES A LIFT CATS is proud to provide opportunities for businesses to create local jobs through the advancement of transit projects. CATS also seeks to create an environment that gives small and socially or economically challenged local businesses the opportunity to compete for publicly funded contracts by participating in the Small Business Opportunity (SBO) and the Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) Programs. On the LYNX Blue Line project, for example, CATS spent $42.9 million with 38 DBE firms to build the new light rail system. As the major provider of public transportation to Charlotte and the surrounding region, CATS relies on the communities we serve to build and operate the service every day. By working together on these new opportunities, we can all keep our communities moving in the right direction. For more information, visit


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Transform 66 Outside the Beltway, Northern Virginia

This project will transform 22.5 miles of Northern Virginia’s Interstate 66 between I-495/ Capital Beltway and U.S. Route 29 in Gainesville, VA into a multimodal corridor. The $2.3 billion design-build project will build two new express lanes alongside three general purpose lanes in each direction; auxiliary lanes where necessary, major interchange improvements, new expanded park and ride lots with more than 4,000 spaces, and multiple segments of a corridor-wide shared use path. Contact for contracting opportunities or more information

North Tarrant Infrastructure, LLC (NTI)

North Tarrant Express 35W- Segment 3C, Denton County, Texas

NTI is building a new extension (segment 3C) to the North Tarrant Express in Texas worth $910 million. This segment will extend 6.7 miles from Heritage Trace Parkway, in Denton County. Existing lanes will be upgraded and will continue to be toll-free, while two tolled managed lanes each way will be built, as well as on-ramps. Construction is under way and the road is expected to be open by the end of 2023. Contact for contracting opportunities or more information

Grand Parkway Infrastructure

Texas SH 99 Grand Parkway Segments H, I1 and I2, Houston, Texas TxDOT awarded the design-build contract for two segments of SH 99 Grand Parkway to Grand Parkway Infrastructure – a joint venture between Ferrovial Agroman, Webber LLC and Granite Construction Inc. The segments begin north of Houston, TX in New Caney, TX and continue south for more than 52 miles to Baytown, TX; spanning four counties – Chambers, Harris, Liberty and Montgomery. The construction value of the project is approximately $900 million and has a 10% DBE goal. Contact for contracting opportunities or more information

POTENTIAL CONTRACT OPPORTUNITIES* Barrier/Guardrail, Bridge Construction, Aggregate/Material Suppliers, Erosion Control/SWPPP, Concrete Structures, Drainage, MSE Walls/ Panels, Noise Walls, Misc. Design Services, Misc. Utilities Services, Traffic Control, Drilling (Sign Posts/Caissons), Utility Relocation Design**, Rebar , Flatwork, Electrical Work, Demolition- Exterior, Grading/ Earthworks, ITS and TCS Civil Work, Landscaping, Materials Testing, Lighting, Saw Cutting/Sealing, Striping, Steel Stud Walls, Utility Relocation**, Recycling/Milling, Paving, Excavation, Environmental, Geotechnical, Fencing, Misc. Concrete Work, Technical Design Engineering, Signage, Surveying, Ready-mix Concrete, Traffic Supplies/Signals, Trucking/Hauling. *PLEASE NOTE: This list is not inclusive of all available opportunities, but a sampling of potential services that could be available on a project. The opportunities available on specific projects may vary depending on the type, scope and size of the project. ** Additional pre-qualifications may be required for these services.

Register as a vendor to prepare for bidding opportunities

Contact the email address for each project listed above for specific contracting opportunities. However, for general questions about the Ferrovial Agroman Diverse Business Program email

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DBE Power Player

CKL Engineers, LLC CEO Whiteside Inspires as a Catalyst for Change By Sarah Magargee

“CKL has an energy about it that is always fresh and focused. They stand by their work, no matter the circumstance, and always do what is in the best interest of the project and client,” Rodseth said. “Ultimately, our collaboration paid dividends as CKL has since won prime contracts with multiple agencies, with our firm supporting them along the way.” Mae C. Whiteside, founder and president of CKL Engineers, LLC. (Photo courtesy: CKL)


aised in the homeless shelters of Chicago, Mae Whiteside drew upon the resilience she learned as a child to grow CKL Engineers from a one-person shop to a multidisciplinary architecture and engineering firm. “It wasn’t always easy,” Whiteside said. “I started CKL during a recession and almost lost my home multiple times. But you know, when you grow up homeless, there is nothing that can get you down. If you can look up, you can get up.” Founded in 2009, CKL provides civil construction engineering services for airports, transportation infrastructure, energy projects, roadway and airport construction management, and erosion control inspection projects. CKL Engineers is a certified DBE and is one of the few African American femaleowned engineering firms in the nation. The company’s main clientele are globally recognized architectural and engineering firms servicing local government agencies. Scott Rodseth, P.E., vice president of Interra, an engineering, inspection and testing firm in Illinois, has worked with CKL Engineers since 2016. Rodseth said that he was immediately impressed with Whiteside when they met and that their companies complimented each other well.

Catalyst for Change Whiteside’s passion for science and engineering comes from her mother, who, despite challenges, provided her daughter with textbooks and experiences that would foster curiosity. Whiteside said that her mother often took her to the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry and for walks on the Illinois Institute of Technology campus. Those experiences were a key to her successful future, allowing

Whiteside to visualize herself attending college and pursuing a career in the sciences from an early age. Whiteside enrolled in the Illinois Institute of Technology in 1999, with her sights set on a degree in environmental engineering. At that time, the Institute did not offer an environmental engineering degree, so Whiteside pivoted, diving headfirst into a civil engineering program. “Here I was, this treehugger wanting to clean the environment and save the world, and suddenly I’m learning how to construct airport runways and bridges!” Whiteside said. “But I went with it and challenged myself. In time, I realized that civil engineering could be an enormous catalyst for change.” Whiteside remembers growing up “in transportation segregation,” where people often did not have the necessary transportation access to better their lives. “I remember

Mae Whiteside (right) and Yousef Anbar, P.E., Senior Construction Engineer for Pinpoint Precision Engineering celebrate their DBE partnership winning a prime opportunity for the Illinois Tollway in September 2021. (Photo courtesy: CKL Engineers/Facebook)


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that as a teenager, I lost a job opportunity because there was no bus that ran the route on weekends,” she said. “Civil engineering is the most public-facing discipline. We build highways, bridges, and roads. We connect communities and improve lives.” The first project CKL won was constructing US-41, a local highway that connected a community long cut off from downtown Chicago by the steel industry. This project created a pathway for residents to commute through Chicago, opening opportunities for real estate and businesses along the way. “When I finally figured out the economic part of civil engineering, I knew I wanted to be there,” Whiteside said. All of Whiteside’s childhood, education and CDOT experiences went into shaping her business. Today CKL Engineers is a diversified firm providing an array of professional services. Whiteside laughed and explained that the exhibits at the Chicago Museum of Science and Technology mirror the main areas of expertise at CKL Engineers. “When you walk into the museum, you see aviation, road and highway construction, engineering, and management. These are all the core pillars of my business today,” Whiteside said. “Clearly, the museum had a profound impact on me!”

The Measure of Success Whiteside did not let her challenging childhood stand in the way of her successful career, but instead, drew upon it to shape how

A CKL staff member works on the $60 million Illinois DOT I-55 Improvement: I-94 to Lake Shore Drive Interchange Reconstruction Project. CKL Engineers partnered with Omega and Associates to provide CEI services to help remove and reconstruct three bridges. (Photo courtesy: CKL)

she defines management and success. “When you have a colorful background like mine, it makes you look at business differently,” she said. “I look toward morale to gauge my success rather than profit vs. loss. How can I keep my employees’ morale up and engaged? For me, success is not just profits; it is keeping my team together and choosing to be a job creator.” Whiteside strives to spark the same entrepreneurial spirit in her employees that spurred her to start her own company in 2009, by working with the team to identify projects they want and then outlining a path to secure

them. In 2020, CKL Engineers was named one of the 2020 Best and Brightest Companies to Work For In the Nation based on employee nominations. Another driving force within CKL Engineers is a dedication to diversity. CKL is one of the nation’s few African American female-owned engineering companies, and its staff is 45% women – 55% of whom are diverse. Whiteside also considers age diversity at CKL, where the current team ranges from ages 27 to 74. “Diversity benefits us because every person in the company brings something unique from their upbringing or background. Our diversity brings unique viewpoints and thought processes to projects,” Whiteside said. “When you apply that to engineering, you get a great cross-section of views and creative solutions in your project.”

Creating Resources

Mae Whiteside (third from right) visits with CKL staff working on the Chicago Transit Authority 95th/Dan Ryan Station & Terminal Improvements Project. (Photo courtesy: CKL)

In 2009 there were few resources for women and minority-owned businesses, making the startup journey even more complicated. “I was, and still am, struck by this,” Whiteside said. “Here we are, a group of individuals expected to fulfill a percentage of contracts, and there was no one and nothing to help us. I also learned pretty quickly that much networking goes on outside of 9 to 5 work hours. I had never been a part of or invited into these spaces, and [I]

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Construction crews work on the Chicago Transit Authority 95th Street Terminal Improvement Project in 2017. CKL Engineers was a subconsultant on the $280 million project.


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found myself missing many opportunities.” The disparities are even more significant as a woman-owned firm in a predominantly male-dominated forum. Whiteside created the Women STEM Entrepreneurs Breakfast Forum, bringing together a panel of successful women entrepreneurs to share their journey in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) space and offer support and inspiration to other women in the industry. Whiteside also regularly convenes a group of black female civil engineers to network and support one another. “You see, women get things done,” she said. “We see an issue that needs addressing, and we stay on that issue until it gains momentum. Working together and supporting one another accelerates that momentum.” As for being a woman in a male-dominated industry, Whiteside has broken through gender barriers by building relationships that are based on honesty and trust. “I would say CKL’s colleagues have been very supportive once they learn that I genuinely just want to build excellent infrastructure and that I always operate with honesty and trust at the forefront,” she said. “I believe that this has contributed greatly to our success.” Whiteside’s advice for other DBEs is to create alliances with the other firms and entrepreneurs who are interested in the company’s growth and build a team that supports the company’s growth as a whole. “Your team should be composed of people who demonstrate that they are true team players and have a real interest in the success of your firm,” she said. “Also, do not be afraid to pivot. If something is not working, find a new direction.” The future for CKL is bright. Since 2009, CKL has expanded to operate offices in Atlanta and Indianapolis and is hoping to open another office in Texas. Whiteside hopes to have grown to be a national brand by 2023, while expanding to include additional environmental and design services. As it stands, President Biden’s “Build Back Better” plan also promises increased opportunities for CKL and other DBEs. “There is much potential with Biden’s plan, but we must engage communities traditionally left out of transportation dollars, and we must open more opportunities to DBE firms like myself to be involved.”





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CK L Engineers, LLC 312-763-2989 CK LENG .COM









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Program spotlight

Kansas City Airport New Terminal Making Economic Impact By Sarah Magargee

Participants in the first KC Strategic Partnership Program attend the graduation ceremony in 2019. Fifty-four students completed the series of classes to improve their business performance. (Photo courtesy: KCI-Edgemoor-Twitter)


he Kansas City International Airport New Terminal is the largest infrastructure project in the history of Kansas City, Missouri, and is creating a positive impact on minorityand women-owned businesses in the region. The project began in 2018 with high expectations by city leaders and the community-at-large for significant opportunities for small businesses, and the project is delivering on its early promises. To date, diverse businesses have received contracts to complete more than 27% of $891 million in construction-related expenses on the project. Minority-owned businesses received contracts for more than $133 million spread across 139 companies; and


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woman-owned businesses received contracts for more than $80 million spread across 107 businesses. The Kansas City International Terminal Project is a public-private partnership between the City of Kansas City Missouri and Edgemoor Infrastructure & Real Estate. Edgemoor’s design/build team for the project is Clark | Weitz | Clarkson (CWC), a joint venture between Clark Construction Group, Weitz Company and Clarkson Construction Company. The new terminal is expected to open in 2023, with 39 gates and the ability to expand to 50 in the future. The project also will include a 6,300-space parking structure along landside and airside improvements. In addition to

on-time and on-budget construction of the 1 million-square-foot single terminal, CWC is responsible for ensuring local diverse firms have meaningful opportunities to participate in the project.

Proper Planning Produces Performance Having a solid plan for the inclusion of minority- and women-owned firms’ participation in the project was essential from outset of the selection process. Kansas City officials and staff set high expectations for minority- and women-owned business inclusion and evaluated each proposer’s

inclusion plan during the final selection. This process included specific questions in the request for proposal submissions, and followup questions during the interview process regarding the actions the selected company would take to assure Inclusion on the project. “Edgemoor and CWC showed their commitment to diversity from the very beginning,” Kansas City Human Relations Director Andrea Dorch said. An example of the commitment was CWC’s launch of the Kansas City Strategic Partnership Program before the project started. The educational series taught potential subcontractors about the new terminal project and provided a full curriculum of courses to help companies improve their business operation. The program has been offered once each year and is now training the fourth cohort of businesses in 2021, bringing the total number of firms completing the program to over 100. “The Kansas City Strategic Partnership Program was open to any business that wanted to participate, whether they ended up working on the New Terminal project or not,” Dorch said. The training program helped the New Terminal project and CWC build positive relationships with the community and display a sincere effort to provide opportunities to diverse firms. For instance, before the pandemic hit in 2020, classes for the program were held at a local church. Pastor John Modest Miles of Morningstar Baptist Church offered his church as the meeting place and provided meals to participants attending the weekly sessions held from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Tuesday evenings. “The program was a great community morale builder,” Dorch said.

The Low Interest Loan Program is a partnership with Lead Bank, a local financial intuition, to help firms acquire financing for equipment and working capital. Since the Low Interest Loan Program’s inception, more than $7 million has been loaned to minority- and women-owned businesses. The KCI Supplier Support Program allows subcontractors to leverage Clark Construction’s purchasing power to rent or buy equipment to support their operations on the New Terminal. Clark Construction has provided access to rentals totaling more than $1.5 million.

Mentor Protégé Program Builds Capacity City officials knew that a strong mentoring program was important to helping diverse firms increase their capacity and gain the skills needed to work on a project the size of the New Terminal. So CWC worked with the City of Kansas City Human Relations Department to implement a robust mentor/protégé program that created opportunities for local firms and will help CWC reach its diversity contracting goals. The program allows large contractors to partner with smaller M/WBE firms to complete significant portions of work, while ensuring that both parties gain benefits from the arrangement. Larger firms gain access to

major contracting opportunities, and smaller firms get an opportunity to work alongside experienced mentors to gain exposure, expertise and experience on a major project. Parrish & Sons Construction, an African American woman-owned company based in Kansas City, is a graduate of the Strategic Partnership Program and has been mentored by two large contractors while working on the New Terminal Project – Clarkson Construction Company, a heavy-civil contractors and Realm Construction Company, a large commercial building contractor. Parrish & Sons Construction’s mentoring relationship with Realm Construction Company allowed the two firms to form a joint venture, providing Parrish & Sons the opportunity to share the risks and benefits of working on a major project. The successful joint venture helped Parrish & Sons Construction gain the experience and confidence to win its first prime contract with the City of Kansas City, Missouri, on a nearly $3 million watermain replacement project. Axiom Construction, a minority-owned rebar installation firm created by the combination of two smaller companies, is completing a mentor/protégé agreement with Kissick Construction Company, another Kansas City-based civil construction firm. “This has been a great example of the success of the Mentor/Protégé Program because Axiom not only has an opportunity to work on the KCI project, they have hired many diverse workers that are also having an opportunity to participate,” Dorch said.

Helping Businesses Succeed CWC created three progressive initiatives to help businesses succeed on the project – Pay Without Delay, Low Interest Loan, and KCI Supplier Support. These programs removed traditional barriers small businesses face when working on major projects. The Pay Without Delay Program ensures firms are paid within 14 days for their completed work and has helped more than two-thirds of the minority- and women-owned firms on the project receive faster payments for invoices.

Andrea Dorch, Kansas City human relations director, leads the city’s DBE Program and contract compliance initiatives on the KCI New Single Terminal project. (Photo courtesy: The City of Kansas City, Missouri.)

Workforce Training Program Creates New Industry Participants Another key factor for success of the KCI New Terminal Project was the robust participation of local workers from the Kansas City community. The City of Kansas City relied on a unified effort with CWC, Kansas City’s Full Employment Council, local union representatives, local construction associations and representatives from the faith-based community to implement the KCI Workforce Training Program, a program to introduce new workers to the construction industry.

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Business Diversity Matters to Houston Airports

Mario Diaz

Director of Aviation


J’Maine Chubb Chief Financial Officer

Liliana Rambo Chief Terminal Management Officer

Jason McLemore Deputy Assistant Director

Rhonda Arnold Chief Community & Business Affairs Officer

Houston is proud to accommodate your air travel with two international airports and remains the ONLY city in the Western Hemisphere with two four-star rated airports!

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Graduates of the Build KCI Workforce Training Program celebrate their first day of work on the airport project in June 2021. (Photo courtesy: KCI-Edgemoor-Twitter)

The collaborative effort has introduced over 200 local workers to employment on the new terminal project. The program includes an application process, followed by a series of pre-employment workshops to explain the basic requirements of working in the construction industry and introduce workers to different occupations they can pursue. Once participants complete this series of workshops, they are eligible to be employed by any of the large contractors working on the New Terminal project, either on the new terminal or on another project the employer has in the Kansas City area. The role of the faith-based community and Full Employment Council is helping to educate the community about the Workforce Training Program and to helping potential applications address deficiencies that prevent them from gaining employment. “The faithbased community provides mentoring to people with rehabilitation needs, and the Full Employment Council provides remedial training to help get people up to where they need to be for employment. Both groups have been

very instrumental in helping the program be successful,” Dorch said. Workforce percentages so far show that minority workers represent 17% of the total hours worked, and women represent 8% of the hours worked on the New Terminal Project. In addition, 12% of the hours have been worked by residents of Kansas City. “Our Mayor Quentin Lucas has been very vocal about having inclusion and ensuring our local workforce is put to work on this project,” Dorch said.

Skepticism Reduced by Transparency and Accountability Although many Kansas City residents and community leaders were skeptical about the promises to have meaningful opportunities for local citizens and businesses to participate in this project, the City has worked to address these concerns and give confidence to apprehensive stakeholders. “Originally it was very contentious. The community was very

skeptical about political promises and about this outside company that was coming in to do a project,” Dorch said. “However, over time the community has responded favorably.” The success is credited to the City, Edgemoor and CWC working to include community stakeholders in all aspects of the project, including procurement activities, employment and reporting. Dorch credits community leaders like Joe Mabin of the Kansas City Minority Contractors Association and Kelvin Perry from the Kansas City Black Chamber of Commerce for holding the project team accountable for providing monthly reports on business and workforce utilization. “What has made this project successful is that we have been transparent and there has been accountability. Although we have not been perfect, we have been loyal to the accountability process,” Dorch said. “We are trying our best to do what’s right by the citizens of Kansas City, Missouri.”

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Kathleen Padilla Receives 2021 Leon C. Watkins “Guardian Award” By Sarah Magargee

program, where 40% of participants The Airports Council Internationalare DBEs. However, Padilla said, North America (ACI-NA) named this impressive participation is not Kathleen Padilla, deputy director of spread equally across the wide aviation for diversity and inclusion at the Philadelphia International variety of DBEs. Airport (PHL), the recipient of the “We have been over-achieving 2021 Leon C. Watkins “Guardian our ACDBE goals, but this is not Award” for Excellence in Business necessarily getting to all portions Diversity. This award recognizes of ACDBE businesses. I want to a business diversity leader who disaggregate our DBE goals to promotes the growth and evolution have individual goals for Black, of minority- and women-owned Hispanic, LGBT, and women-owned businesses while fostering civil concessionaires,” she explained. rights and equal opportunities for “This is something that is currently all in the airport business arena. not done, and we want to change it.” Padilla is a champion for Diversity Padilla and PHL have submitted & Inclusion in the aviation industry, proposals requesting a pilot program helping to set records at PHL and in for setting DBE goals in this manner the greater Philadelphia community. and hope that in time it will become In 2020, PHL’s Airport Concession the new standard for programs Disadvantaged Business Enterprise nationwide. In addition, Padilla goal was 19.3%; today, Padilla has far recently had two ACRP research exceeded that goal with a 40% DBE proposals approved. These projects participation rate. will look at ways to streamline As the highest-ranking transDBE and ACDBE certifications on gender woman in Philadelphia, a national level. Gaining DBE and Padilla has worked tirelessly to ACDBE certification is a lengthy bring about legislation supporting Kathleen Padilla, Deputy Director of Aviation for Diversity & Inclusion and challenging process. It is transgender rights. “Kathleen Padilla at Philadelphia International Airport. (Photo courtesy: PHL) different in every state and poses has a long history of community specific challenges to ACDBEs leadership, service, and advocacy, and her looking to expand their brand to other airports passion for lifting up others is clear. ACIin the country. NA applauds the important work Kathleen Redefining Diversity Goals has done – and continues to do – to foster “At PHL, we have been lucky to have the Support Every Step of the Way equal access to opportunities in the aviation support of the entire administration in industry,” said ACI-NA President and CEO increasing ACDBE participation ... and we Kevin M. Burke. As a former small business owner, Padilla take our responsibilities in civil rights very knows firsthand the challenges facing small “It is an honor to receive this award and to be associated with Mr. Watkins’ name,” Padilla seriously,” Padilla said. “Not everyone sees businesses. Airport concessionaires also said. “Mr. Watkins was the first head of the diversity work as their priority, but people [in encounter additional hurdles than the classic Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and all divisions] must know that diversity is not Main Street business, too. To address this, was a groundbreaker in clearing the path for just important, it is all of our responsibilities.” Padilla is developing a formal concessions At PHL, Padilla has elevated the emphasis academy certificate program at PHL to assist minority and women-owned businesses to on diversity throughout the airport. That DBEs in setting up. enter the airport industry. change is especially noticeable in the ACDBE


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HAMPTON ROADS CONNECTOR PARTNERS invites you to be a part of

VIRGINIA’S LARGEST TRANSPORTATION PROJECT The I-64 Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel in southeastern Virginia has long been one of the region’s most congested corridors. The existing 3.5-mile facility consists of two 2-lane immersedtube tunnels on artificial islands, with trestle bridges to shore. These tunnels opened in 1957 (current westbound lanes) and 1976 (eastbound lanes) and are approximately 7,500 feet long.




Traffic on these four lanes exceeds 100,000 vehicles per day during peak summer traffic. The Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel Expansion Project will ease this congestion with the addition of twin 2-lane bored tunnels just west of the existing eastbound tunnel. Also, the 4-lane segments of the I-64 corridor in the cities of Hampton and Norfolk will be widened.


Visit the project’s website at

to stay up to date on opportunities. Hampton Roads Connector Partners | 240 Corporate Blvd. | Norfolk, VA 23502 | 757-578-9284 HAMPTON ROADS CONNECTOR PARTNERS IS AN EQUAL OPPORTUNITY EMPLOYER

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J O N E S W O R L E Y ’ S E X P E R I E N C E S P A N S A L L M O D E S O F T R A N S P O R T A T I O N | 19 9 0 - 2 0 21

Transportation Communications Experts As a national leader in communications for more than 30 years, Jones Worley (JW) has carved a niche in the

initiatives, including terminals, concourses, curbside modernization, inbound roadway improvements,

transportation industry, having worked at 27 airports and 27 transit systems across the country. From strategic branding and marketing to wayfinding, signage, and experiential graphic design, JW’s work has enhanced

amenities and retail, car-rental and parking structures, and marketing communications services for large and small operations. JW has also helped strategically brand, implement, and launch transformational transit

the customer and stakeholder experience and raised the profile of authorities throughout the United States.

campaigns for network redesign, bus rapid transit, light rail, on-time performance, real-time passenger information, code of conduct, increasing ridership,

Our aviation work extends to airside and landside, new and upgraded facilities, and domestic and international

Cynthia Jones Parks President/CEO

36 404-876-9272 / Summer 2021

and for new apps, fare media and technology.

Jones Worley. A small DBE firm with big business expertise in strategic marketing, branding, outreach, campaign development, wayfinding, experiential graphics and signage design.

This “soup to nuts” program will take prospective ACDBEs through the set-up process, step-by-step, outlining challenging topics like airport restrictions, formulating a joint venture agreement, securing resources, and recruiting employees. Padilla said that PHL has done a lot of outreach in the past but never packaged it all together holistically. This certificate program will help set the stage for fledgling ACDBEs to succeed and grow. Padilla also runs PHL’s annual Business Opportunity Forum that brings more than 500 representatives from large, small, minorityowned, and disadvantaged businesses to learn about opportunities and network with peers, resource partners and airport leaders. “The Business Opportunity Forum is our premier business diversity event and is consistently well-received and attended,” Padilla said. “We always focus on trying to get new businesses into the airport, and we make a special outreach attempt to connect with the largest minority- and women-owned businesses in Philadelphia.” At no point has PHL’s dedication to supporting ACDBEs been more apparent than during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. PHL offered a relief package to concessionaires that ensured no disproportionate impact on minority- and women-owned businesses. “The pandemic recovery is first and foremost on everyone’s mind,” Padilla said. “There are so many challenges in navigating the pandemic beyond just reopening. For example, how do you ensure the safety of your staff, and how do you recruit new staff? We have worked to address all the concerns of our concessionaires. Currently, all ACDBEs at PHL have reopened, and that is due to a lot of hard work on everyone’s part.”

A Journey of Firsts Padilla’s journey is one of many firsts. “Like so many other people from diverse backgrounds, when you are the first at something, you are always going to get more scrutiny,” she said. “You always have that experience where you are the only one in the room. I am the first transgender woman to lead an airport business diversity program; this is something I do not take lightly.” Padilla is also the highest-ranking transgender woman in Philadelphia and has fought for the LGBTQ community locally and nationally. In 2013, Padilla was a driving force behind the city’s 2013 LGBTQ rights legislation,

Philadelphia International Airport CEO Rochelle Cameron (3rd from left) cuts the ribbon on a new Burger King Restaurant at the Philadelphia International Airport owned by ACDBE concessionaire Seven Hills Inc. Cameron is joined by Raghu Tadavarthy of Seven Hills Inc. (far right) and other representatives of Burger King and the airport. The Philadelphia Marketplace Food & Shops in the B/C Connector at the airport was recognized by Airports Council International-North America (ACI-NA) as “Best Food and Beverage Program” among large airports in North America. (Photo courtesy: PHL)

which is one of the broadest LGBTQ rights laws in the country and helped establish Philadelphia as the highest-ranked government in the country in LGBT equity by the Human Rights Campaign’s Municipal Equality Index. Nationally, Padilla has served as a DNC delegate for Pennsylvania in 2004, was a founding board member of the National Transgender Advocacy Coalition, and was a member of the first White House Transgender Policy Meeting under President Obama. Padilla explained that throughout her career she has drawn inspiration from her mentor, Michael Williams, a former director of the Minority Business Development Agency’s Enterprise Center and a noted civil rights leader. “Michael is a legend in Philadelphia civil rights and the LGBT community. He brought me on to work with him at the Minority Enterprise Council, which in turn got me into the field of business diversity,” she said. She continued: “It was hard for a transgender person to get work back then, and he took

a chance on hiring me. It certainly was not a popular decision [to hire a transgender person]. I will always thank him for putting that trust into me, and it continues to guide my work today.” As Padilla looks toward her future, she sees retirement on the horizon; but first, she hopes to bring more change to federal legislation – something she sees as a capstone to her career. “I want to see people from all backgrounds be able to be a part of all communities and regardless of race, gender or sexual identity,” Padilla said. “We all deserve to be treated equally by our government and to have equal opportunities.”

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hicago Transit Authority (CTA) is one of few transit systems that maintained full scheduled service throughout 2020 during the peak of the nationwide COVID-19 pandemic. CTA President Dorval Carter held fast to the belief that essential workers and the community-at-large needed reliable and safe transportation during the national crisis. His leadership kept the Chicagoland area moving during 2020, thereby creating business opportunities for small and diverse companies during the resulting economic recession. Carter’s leadership and the stellar performance of the CTA organization were recognized by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) with two awards during their virtual 2021 APTA Awards Program. CTA received the 2020 Large Transit System of the Year award and President Dorval Carter received the Agency Executive of the Year award. In making the award to CTA, APTA said in a press release: “Few transit agencies in the United States have made more progress in modernizing their system over the last several years than the Chicago Transit Authority. CTA has completed, started work on, or begun planning more than $8 billion in improvement projects, among them: reconstruction or rehabilitation of 40 CTA rail stations—nearly 30 percent of the entire rail system; purchase of the CTA’s newest-generation electric buses, delivery of CTA’s newest-generation railcars and started the largest capital project in CTA history, the Red and Purple Modernization project.” Carter was recognized for his success in guiding the agency trough the numerous challenges created by the pandemic, and for oversight of a record level of investment in the transit system. APTA also honored Carter for his commitment and leadership in creating greater equity. APTA said in a press release:


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Transit President Dorval Carter Leads CTA to APTA Awards for Excellence and Equity “Equity and fairness have been guiding principles for Carter since he joined the CTA as staff attorney in the 1980s, and he has continually been a catalyst for expanding equitable opportunities. Through outreach, engagement and innovative partnerships, Carter has ensured that CTA investments directly boost the communities in which they are made and provide opportunities for those who live in those communities.”

In response to the award announcements, CTA President Carter said: “It is an honor to receive these awards, because they are a recognition of the commitment and dedication our employees showed throughout the pandemic. It stands as a statement of the resilience, creativity and innovation that our agency showed during this time, which we are grateful to be recognized for.”

Opposite: Chicago Transit Authority President Dorval R. Carter Jr. received the 2021 Outstanding Public Transportation Manager Award from the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) for his leadership of the agency during the 2020 pandemic. (Photo courtesy of CTA)

Red & Purple Line Modernization Provides Opportunities CTA moving forward on its planned Red & Purple Modernization (RPM) project was one of the reasons the agency was recognized by APTA. Design work on RPM Phase I began in 2019 and construction started in 2020, as the pandemic swept across the country. CTA pressed forward on the $2.1 billion project, providing DBE firms significant business opportunities during the process. CTA established a 20% DBE goal for professional services and a 20% DBE goal for construction on the project to maximize opportunities for both design and engineering firms and construction-related firms. The agency began to use separate goals for the design and construction of major projects after CTA President Carter received recommendations from DBE consulting firms regarding the fact that most prime contractors rely only on construction firms to meet DBE goals, which limited opportunities for engineering companies. The agency responded to the recommendation by moving to separate goals on its major projects. This change created more opportunity for DBEs providing professional services and kept the project on track to reach both participation goals. To date, 68 different DBE firms have been awarded contracts totaling $169 million. The separate goals opened the door to new firms getting involved, with the RPM being the first CTA program for 20 DBE firms. CTA expects total awards to DBEs on the project to exceed $200 million before the end of the project. “We’re on track to meet the goal. Right now, we are at 13% of a 20% goal, but we have quite a bit to go,” CTA Diversity Programs Director JuanPablo Prieto said. CTA made sure its contractor for the RPM Modernization made a robust effort to provide opportunity to DBEs by requiring the three shortlisted bidders for the project to submit a

CTA contractors continue construction on the $2.1 billion Red and Purple Modernization (RPM) Phase One Project. (Photo courtesy of CTA)

Diversity Outreach Plan detailing their actions to include DBEs and underrepresented workers in the project. CTA’s selection committee awarded as many as 25 bonus points to bidders based on the quality of their outreach and compliance plan. “The Walsh-Fluor DesignBuild Team submitted a great proposal and won the project. That was a huge difference maker among the proposals, and we saw some very innovative plans,” Prieto said. Walsh-Fluor’s Diversity and Inclusion plan expressed a commitment to advocacy, opportunity, and mentorship for small minority businesses and craft workers respectively. Walsh-Fluor developed and implemented programs including the Building

Small Businesses Program, Elevating Futures Scholarship Fund, and Tracks to Trades. Each of these programs has made an impact to date. Through the Building Small Businesses Program, more than 20 small minority businesses have secured over $5.5 million in federal loans in 2020-2021 and 6 companies have been awarded contracts on the RPM project. “The initial plan was to provide firms with training and technical assistance to help them secure working capital and equipment financing, but when the pandemic hit, we switched the program to helping firms get the SBA PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) and EIDL (Economic Injury Disaster Loan). We are now moving back to the original plan,” Prieto said. / Summer 2021


The Building Small Businesses Program is led by DBE firms participating on the Walsh-Flour team, Zann and ABF Consulting Group. The two firms have added expertise and experience with creating initiatives to assist small and DBE firms on major projects. “ZANN and ABF Consulting Group understand the obstacles diverse and small businesses face in obtaining financing, and created a laser focused direct lending program for DBEs” Suzanne Arkle, ZANN’s President + CEO said. The effort of the CTA Diversity Programs Department working closely with the Walsh-Fluor team is producing significant opportunities for diverse businesses and underrepresented groups in the construction workforce. Kweku Thompson, Walsh-Fluor’s Diversity and Inclusion Manager said: “Our outreach and compliance plan communicated tangible ways to promote and achieve equity by focusing on ways to connect diverse firms and diverse people to contracting and employment opportunities. We believe awarding contracts to small minority business creates a more diverse workforce because those companies often have strong relationships with diverse individuals seeking employment – especially the communities impacted by this historic project.”

Training and Education Carter and the staff of CTA understand that it is challenging for small and diverse companies to move into working for a large public agency. After talking with small firms about working in CTA projects, Carter recommended that the Diversity Programs Department develop a program to teach companies how to do business with the agency. This recommendation led to the creation of a series of classes to introduce firms to CTA and the contracting process. The first series, as part of the Green Line Small Business Initiative ran in 2017 as the agency prepared for improvements to four stations on the Green Line. Twenty-four companies participated in the program, and six of the firms won contracts to work on the Green Line stations improvements. Carter believes the success of the program comes from taking the time to listen to the people impacted by CTAs. “I have always taken pride in talking to and engaging the stakeholders who are impacted by what we do to find out what barriers they are facing,” Carter said. “Rarely do I walk away without some understanding, or some new idea or some issue that wasn’t on my radar before


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CTA Diversity Programs Director JuanPablo Prieto speaks to participants in the Small Business Educational Series. (Photo courtesy of CTA)

having those conversation with them. CTA continued the educational series in 2018 related to work on the Your New Blue Program, and in 2019 for the RPM Modernization project. The Diversity Programs Office turned the series into a standing annual program in 2020 called the CTA Small Business Educational Series. The program is currently a nine-part series covering topics such as marketing, safety, invoicing, project close-out and technology, all with the goal of making it easier for new firms to go business with the agency. “We recognized that doing business with a public agency isn’t easy. The amount of red tape, and the rules and regulations, and all the other things that go with our procurement process can be intimidating at best, and debilitating at worst,” Carter said. “We started the program because we don’t want companies that start doing business with us to fail. Because it defeats the purpose of why we set the program up.”

Unwavering Commitment and Support Carter began his tenure as president in 2015 and Prieto said he has engaged with Diversity Programs team since “Day One.” As a results,

he brought the department deeper into the decision-making process to ensure the agency was thinking about DBE participation and workforce development as early as possible in major projects. “For him, our goals are the floor, and he expects contractors to reach for the ceiling,” Prieto said. Carter’s support and commitment to greater equity also promotes innovation by the agency to look for ways to move the needle for small businesses seeking business opportunities with CTA. “He keeps pushing us to do better and think more creatively; and when we come up with an idea, he puts his full support behind it,” Prieto said. The result of the agency’s effort has been increasing the overall participation of diverse business in CTA contracts and greater engagement of the community in services and major initiatives. Carter believes this is how the agency should connect with the people it services. “An agency needs to reflect the community that it serves,” Carter said. “The only way that is going to happen is that it reflects the diversity of the community, and the diversity is seen and experienced across all levels of the agency.”


Director Ajegba Leads MDOT to Greater Equity During ‘Rebuilding Michigan’ Program Based on Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s commitment to fix her state’s longneglected roads, the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) is investing $3.5 billion from the sale of bonds. Gov. Whitmer’s ‘Rebuilding Michigan’ program will rebuild or repair approximately 122 major highways. The program began in 2021 with $2.3 billion in projects scheduled to begin this year, and MDOT leaders expect that the Rebuilding Michigan program will be augmented by the infrastructure bill currently making its way through Congress. MDOT Director Paul Ajegba, P.E., a 31-year veteran of the department, believes the Rebuilding Michigan program and federal infrastructure bill create an unprecedented level of opportunity for small and diverse firms in the state. “There has never been a more opportune time for DBEs to get involved in the highway transportation industry, both as consultants and construction firms,” Ajegba said. However, Ajegba knows Disadvantaged Business Enterprises taking advantage of this great opportunity must be prepared to do business, and he wants MDOT to help firms prepare to participate while ensuring that opportunities are extended to those ready to take advantage. “We don’t want to look back at the end of spending this $3.5 billion and the additional federal money and say we have not impacted the DBE community,” Ajegba said. The objective of the Rebuilding Michigan program is rebuilding the state highways and bridges that are critical to the state’s economy and carry the most traffic. MDOT’s goal is that the program also brings improvement to the small and diverse business that help complete the program. “What are we going to hold up as the legacy of this opportunity? That is the vision I am working to create – a long-lasting change in the makeup of our industry, both on

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (r) and State Transportation Director Paul C. Ajegba toured the I-496 project in November 2020. This project was the first of 122 projects throughout the state made possible by the Rebuilding Michigan initiative, allowing the department to advance projects and complete them more quickly. (Photo courtesy of Michigan Department of Transportation)

the consulting side and the construction side; and we are putting a lot of things in place to make that happen,” Ajegba said.

Thinking Out Of The Box A hallmark of Ajegba’s leadership is encouraging MDOT employees to innovate and think out-of-the-box to create new solutions to old problems. Over his career, he has seen many efforts to help DBEs succeed come and go with limited success. Ajegba uses the experience of growing through the ranks at MDOT and learning the only way to make improvements is to be open to new ways of doing things. He encourages his leadership team to challenge conventional wisdom and

take calculated risks to move the agency forward toward its goals and objectives. “I started as a Traffic and Safety Engineer and if I had to go back and talk to that young man today, I would tell him not to be afraid to take chances; because if you do your homework, the risk is not as bad as it seems – it’s the only way to innovate. I want our people to know that they won’t be fired for trying something new,” he said. Ajegba is using this strategy to encourage greater impact in the DBE Program. Early in his tenure as director, he met with Lisa Thompson, administrator of the Office of Business Development (OBD), to encourage her and the OBD team to be innovative and assertive in taking the program to the next level. “I told them I am fully vested in this, / Summer 2021


Paul C. Ajegba, P.E. has more than 31 years of experience with the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT), and after 28 years with the department, he was appointed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer as director on Jan. 1, 2019. (Photo courtesy of Michigan Department of Transportation)

and I need them to push to make significant changes. I wanted them to understand that all the way to the director’s level is invested in making the program successful,” he said. Thompson has taken the director’s charge and began to ramp up DBE Program efforts to move the needle. First, OBD increased its outreach and training activities during the pandemic. OBD used the challenges of the pandemic to create virtual training programs to expand outreach across the state. “We were able to embrace the virtual format, and it has actually been helpful, because it allowed us to reach more places all at once,” Thompson said. Next, OBD added two additional staff dedicated to expanding outreach to existing DBE firms and recruiting more businesses for the program. Thompson said the increased business opportunities resulting from the Rebuilding Michigan program may cause some firms to exceed the gross revenue size limits to stay in the DBE Program. “We have to find new firms that can join the program,” she said. Another initiative OBD launched is performing greater analysis of the DBE


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goal setting process for major projects to ensure MDOT meets or exceeds its overall DBE goal of 8.03% for federal fiscal year 2021. “We have really been taking a closer look and giving more scrutiny to requests to reduce DBE goals on larger projects,” Thompson said. During this process, Ajegba and Thompson met with some of the state’s large prime contractors to stress the importance of maximizing opportunities for DBEs and requesting their buy-in on the effort. “We are seeing results and achieved DBE participation of 9.13% through the first six months of 2021. This amounts to $65.6 million in contracts and we are on track to exceed $100 million to DBE firms by the end of the year,” she said.

Ensuring Opportunity

initiative LEBS is creating are new policies to improve opportunities for dump truck hauling companies on MDOT contracts. LEBS is working with MDOT officials, the Michigan Infrastructure Transportation Association, and DBE hauling companies to create contracting agreements for hauling firms that are acceptable to all parties involved. Currently, DBE hauling firms work from an open purchase order instead of a subcontract agreement with a fixed amount. This contracting method makes it difficult for truckers to get bank financing for new trucks because there is no contracted amount for how much they will earn on a project. “The committee is working on this issue, and they are making progress. We expect a breakthrough by this fall,” Ajegba said. MDOT is also increasing opportunities through efforts to diversify its internal workforce, especially in the engineering field. The MDOT Transportation Diversity Recruitment Program provides internships to students from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) to expose them to working at MDOT. Ajegba is especially proud of this program since he is a graduate of Prairie View A&M University, an HBCU in Texas. “We never had anything like this when I was in engineering school. I used to work at McDonalds in the summer because there were no internships available,” he said. MDOT hosted 60 engineering students in the summer of 2021, providing housing to the students at state universities across Michigan and a summer internship in the engineering field. MDOT partnered with the American Council of Engineering Companies of Michigan to provide internships for students

One of the challenges to getting more DBEs involved previously was a limited number of opportunities available for contractors to pursue. This often resulted in firms with the most experience and track record winning work continually, while limiting opportunities for new firms to enter the market. “Our program was not big enough, so it was very tough for new firms to break through,” Ajegba said. He expects the Rebuilding Michigan program to open the door for new firms to do business on MDOT projects. In 2020, MDOT hired Leading Edge Business S o l u t i o n s ( L E BS ) , a minority-owned consulting firm, to study the department’s processes and DBE Program and make Lisa Thompson, administrator of the Office of Business Development, recommendations to create makes remarks at the 39th Annual Small Business Development more opportunities for DBE Conference in 2019. (Photo courtesy of Michigan Department firms to participate. One of Transportation)

at engineering firms across the state. “Giving the students the opportunity and expose them to the industry is a good thing. It also teaches them work ethic, like getting up early and getting to work on time, and taking responsibility to get the job done,” Ajegba said.

Preparing DBEs for Success While creating opportunities is vitally important, Ajegba knows DBEs need to be prepared to succeed once the opportunity is provided. This understanding led him to spearhead creation of the MDOT Consultant Mentor/Protégé Program. The program creates a win-win relationship between large consulting firms and DBE firms seeking to enter or expand in the industry. Large consultants working on MDOT projects are offered compensation for mentoring a DBE firm, while DBEs gain valuable experience working with experienced consulting firms on an MDOT project. “We are beginning to see major change on the consultant side and are now beginning to move to expanding this program to the construction side,” Ajegba said. Ajegba is pleased with the improvement MDOT is making with its DBE Program and

wants to see more companies expand their capabilities in the transportation industry. However, he cautions firms to focus their efforts when seeking to enter the industry due to the variety of options for business opportunity. He believes the best approach is to first A student intern in the 2019 MDOT Transportation Diversity look at the lay of the Recruitment Program learns to check the level of asphalt on a land and then create roadway project. MDOT hosted 60 students from HBCUs across a market strategy the country during the summer internship program in 2019. (Photo courtesy of Michigan Department of Transportation) based on the area of interest. Next, the firm should find a niche within the selected when he made his first hole in one playing a market; and finally, hone their skills to get par 3 hole while golfing in July. He said, “Yes, I very good at it. He said, “The opportunities are hit my first hole in one and I have proof, too. I there, but you want to be careful to not be all had a witness!” He also hopes DBEs will witness over the place and not do one thing very well.” a change in their number of opportunities Although MDOT has taken several steps under his leadership. to create innovative strategies to increase opportunities, Ajegba knows the success of the program lies in creating visible and verifiable results. He was reminded of this fact recently

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Legal Challenges

to covid-19 for disadvantaged businesses By Colette Holt, J.D. and Joanne Lubart J.D., Colette Holt & Associates

government. Despite the settlement and numerous Congressional reports documenting the dearth of government help to Black farmers, little progress has been made to date. Relief is targeted to “socially disadvantaged farmers or ranchers”, and “socially disadvantaged” has been interpreted by USDA to mean individuals who are Black/African American, American Indian, Alaskan Native, Hispanic/Latino, Asian or Pacific Islander; White farmers may still apply if funds are available. The legislation is aimed at addressing historical inequities, particularly for Black farmers attempting to modernize their facilities, whose numbers have declined from nearly a million in 1920 to 45,000 of the nation’s 3.4M farmers. Approximately 17,000 qualify for assistance, while less than five percent will receive debt cancellation. Notwithstanding this long and well documented history of race discrimination by the federal government, three suits have been filed to enjoin the new program. All three courts have held for the plaintiffs, agreeing for various reasons that the loan forgiveness and support elements discriminate against Whites.

Texas Colette Holt (left) and Joanne Lubart


everal recent lawsuits and events have dealt a serious setback to minorities and women poised to obtain economic relief under President Biden’s $1.9 trillion America Rescue Plan of 2021. All these cases have applied the strict scrutiny standard, the most rigorous constitutional standard of review, which applies in government actions involving race-based classifications. The government has the burden of producing evidence that meets two tests: it must have a “compelling interest” in using the highly disfavored remedy of race-based classifications, and any remedies adopted must be “narrowly tailored” to the evidence presented and no more burdensome than necessary to achieve the desired outcome. These so far successful attacks are worrisome, since they portend a federal judiciary that continues to impose ever higher burdens on programs designed to address systemic discrimination.

Actions Challenging Federal Relief for Black and Minority Farmers and Ranchers To date, three federal district courts have held that the provision of the March COVID-19 relief law, that provides U.S. Department of Agriculture (“USDA”) aid to socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers, unconstitutionally discriminates against White applicants. The legislation represents an attempt to assist Black and minority farmers who were overlooked during the Trump administration. The COVID-19 relief bill constitutes the most significant legislation for Black farmers since the Civil Rights Act of 1963. Congress sought to make up for decades of lending discrimination in the farm assistance programs, widely documented in USDA legal settlements and reports, Congressional hearings, and Government Accountability Office reports. A 1999 settlement of a class action against USDA over its discriminatory loan practices against Black farmers was the largest civil rights settlement ever won against the federal

In Miller v. Vilsack, filed President Trump’s former senior advisor, Stephen Miller and former Trump chief of staff, Mark Meadows, plaintiffs complain that the definition of “socially disadvantaged” fails to include “white ethnic groups that have unquestionably suffered” because of their ethnicity, such as those of the Italian, German, Irish, Jewish, and those of eastern European heritage. Alternatively, they argued that “socially disadvantaged group” must be construed to include White ethnic groups that have experienced discrimination and individuals who have any discernable trace of minority ancestry, such as one of the plaintiffs, Syd Miller, the Texas Commissioner of Agriculture, whose DNA test revealed he has 2% African ancestry. The court has granted plaintiffs motion for class certification and a preliminary injunction. Plaintiff had met the standard for class certification by proving the class will be close to two million individuals; there is a question of law common to the two impacted classes; the claims are the same for all members of the proposed classes; and there were no conflicts of interest among the class members and plaintiffs will adequately represent the interests of class members. In granting the preliminary injunction, the court noted that the / Summer 2021


USDA had already conceded that its scheme is race-based, maintaining that it is allowed to use racial classification to remedy the lingering effects of past racial discrimination against minority groups, which is a compelling governmental interest. The court found that the USDA’s use of race- and ethnicity-based preferences in the administration of the loanforgiveness program violated equal protection under the U.S. Constitution. The court ruled that the USDA lacked a compelling governmental interest for the racial classifications and concluded that plaintiffs face a substantial threat of irreparable harm absent a preliminary injunction because they are experiencing racebased discrimination and will be barred from even being considered for funding from the program as the result of this discrimination. The court also found that the relief program is not narrowly tailored. It concluded that the statute’s “check-the-box approach” to the classification of applicants by race and ethnicity is far different from the “highly individualized, holistic review” of individuals in a classification system upheld in other cases, citing Grutter v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 306 (2003) and Fisher v. University of Texas, 136 S. Ct. 2198 (2016). The preliminary injunction prevents the USDA from disbursing relief payments to all socially disadvantaged farmers or ranchers nationwide and seeks to prevent harm and preserve the existing conditions of the case until it is resolved by the court.

Wisconsin In Faust v. Vilsack, plaintiffs are 12 White farmers from nine states. They are represented by the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, a conservative advocacy group. Plaintiffs made claims similar to that in the Texas cases. While the government presented a summary of statistical disparities, the court found that the USDA could not rely on a “generalized assertion that there has been past discrimination in an entire industry” to establish a compelling government interest. An “observation that prior, race-neutral relief efforts failed to reach minorities is no evidence at all that the government enacted or administered these policies in a discriminatory way.” Congress could opt to implement race-neutral programs such as requiring individual determinations of disadvantaged status or giving priority to loans to farmers and ranchers left out of the previous pandemic relief funding, as well as providing better outreach, education, and other resources. The temporary restraining order has


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been stayed proceedings pending resolution of the class action in Miller v. Vilsack.

Florida In Wynn v. Vilsack, the court issued a nationwide preliminary injunction halting loan forgiveness payments and debt relief. The lawsuit was brought by a White farmer, who is represented by the Pacific Legal Foundation, a California conservative legal organization. The court wrote that in creating the debt program, “Congress also must heed its obligation to do away with governmentally imposed discrimination based on race.” The court found that little, if anything, suggests that the statute was narrowly tailored. As written, it benefits only those socially disadvantaged farmers who succeeded in receiving qualifying farm loans from the USDA, but the evidence provided by the USDA says little concerning how this particular group has been the subject of past or ongoing discrimination. The debt relief provision applies strictly on racial grounds irrespective of any other factor. Because “[t]here is no way to construe the law to provide debt relief to a white farmer,” the court concluded that the only available remedy was to enjoin the challenged program. The USDA has promised that it will “forcefully defend” the relief payments. Other lawsuits loom on the horizon, including one expected to be filed in Wyoming.

Suits Challenging Grants to Socially and Economically Disadvantaged Restaurant Owners In June, a federal appeals court struck down the provision in the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 that prioritized the application filing for limited COVID-19 relief funds to restaurant owners based on race, sex or veteran status. In Vitolo v. Guzman, White business owners in Tennessee challenged pandemic relief grants under the Restaurant Revitalization Fund. The lawsuit was brought by the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, a nonprofit conservative law firm, on behalf of a White male 50% restaurant owner. Under the American Rescue Plan, Congress allocated nearly $29 billion for grants to help restaurant owners meet payroll and other expenses. The fund was created to provide

grants to small, privately owned restaurants, with priority given to applications, filed during the first 21 days, by restaurants that are at least 51% owned and controlled by women, veterans, or the “socially and economically disadvantaged.” The program is administered by the U.S. Small Business Administration (“SBA”). Congress determined that applications from these groups were to be prioritized based upon a study that showed that Paycheck Protection funds were not distributed equitably in 2020: White business owners who had pre-existing relationships with banks that disbursed the funds got priority treatment. Congress also heard testimony from restauranteurs, economists, financial experts and public interest advocates. Experts offered significant evidence showing that minority-owned businesses were more vulnerable to economic distress than businesses owned by Whites, and they were more likely to operate in retail, accommodation, food services, and personal care industries, which were among the hardest hit by government shut-down orders and a decrease in foot traffic. The Fund began taking applications in early May. During the first 21 days, the SBA gave grants to priority applicants only. Non-priority restaurants could apply during this time, but they would not receive a grant until the initial period expired. Because there is no provision for replenishing the Fund, plaintiff sought the temporary restraining order to prevent disbursement. In a 2-to-1 decision, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals found that the SBA had injected explicit racial and ethnic preferences into the priority process under a regulation that predated the pandemic, and that the added evidentiary burden faced by White men and other non-presumptively disadvantaged groups stand in marked contrast with lenient evidentiary standards set by the American Rescue Plan Act. Under strict scrutiny, a court must first consider whether the government has a “compelling interest” in giving some races priority access to the Fund. The court concluded that the SBA lacks a compelling interest in presumptively requiring men from non-favored racial groups to wait as a remedy for some specific episode of discrimination, and the discriminatory disbursement is not narrowly tailored to further that interest. It found that the SBA should have availed itself of several nondiscriminatory policies, including granting priority to all owners who were unable to

obtain needed capital or credit during the pandemic. The court also held that aside from the existence of race-neutral alternatives, the use of racial preferences is both overbroad and underinclusive. Non-designated races start with a much higher hurdle, since they must provide evidence that they suffered episodes of discrimination. The court also found that the requirement that a business must be at least 51% owned by women or minorities might not help remedy past discrimination.

Conclusion These opinions should be of grave concern to all civil rights champions. These activist opinions undercut current law in several respects: • The evidence before Congress’ about the need to target relief to disadvantaged farmers was strong. If legal settlements and government reports are not enough to support relief, it is difficult to imagine what will suffice. • These decisions seem to gut the concept of the government’s “passive participation” in a system of race-based exclusion as a

sufficient basis to undertake action. Injecting the notion that “intentional discrimination” must be proved before any program may be adopted will make programmatic relief almost impossible to enact. • By insisting that every possible race-neutral approach must be tried first and proven to fail, these opinions further undercut decades of settled law that victims of discrimination need not be held hostage to any possible other approach that might – someday – work. • Imposing the new requirement that a program must require highly individualized review of any applicant, similar to the process used by the nation’s most highly selective colleges to determine admissions, will doom DBE-type programs to failure. Mandating a similar level of information and will impose intolerable burdens on all parties. The current lengthy and burdensome certification processes would become more so, thereby undercutting the utility of targeted relief. By the time these standards would be satisfied, the farmers will have defaulted and the restaurants will have closed.

Colette Holt is a lawyer and consultant who focuses on programs for disadvantaged, minority and woman firms. She is also General Counsel to the American Contract Compliance Association. She can be reached at Joanne Lubart is Associate Counsel at Colette Holt & Associates. She can be reached at joanne.

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Three Ways to Get the Most from Your DBE Certification With the federal government poised to pass an infrastructure package worth $1 trillion, it certainly seems to be a prime opportunity for Disadvantaged Business Enterprises to obtain some of the work. If you own or operate a DBE firm, you will want to put yourself in the best position possible to be found by the prime contractors bidding for the work. Firms that meet the DBE Program’s qualifying criteria are included on the state’s unified certification (UCP) program list, and it is from this list that the prime contractors will search for available DBE firms. If you are a DBE firm, you will want to make sure that your listing completely reflects the work that you perform and that the contractor can get in touch with you.

Here are three tips: Be Accurate, Be Timely, Be Accessible. Be Accurate with the NAICS Code description. Prime contractors must use the UCP directory to search for DBE firms that might qualify to perform a designated scope of work in a bid opportunity. The primary way a firm will be found is through its NAICS (rhymes with snakes) Code. NAICS stands for the North American Industry Classification System. Your primary NAICS Code is self-assigned by reference to the activity that generates the most revenue for the business. Industries are identified by a six-digit code that identifies the businesses’ market sector and gets progressively more descriptive with each two digits. The NAICS system is used to gather statistical data related to the U.S. economy, but the USDOT has adopted the NAICS for procurement purposes. The USDOT uses the code to define the type of work a contractor can perform – and work that can be counted toward DBE attainment. You should periodically assess and check that your NAICS codes are accurate and up to date. Do the ones that are listed in the UCP directory represent the type of work you are currently doing? You should affirmatively check and verify that they do. Should you add other NAICS Codes? Have



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you expanded the work you do since being initially assigned a NAICS Code? If so, you should reach out to your certifying agency and talk to a certification specialist and request that a NAICS Code be added to your directory description. Accurate codes reflect the work you perform and will allow contractors to find you – and the agencies to set appropriate project goals. If you can be found, you will get more opportunities to bid, which will translate into more money. Work performed by a DBE firm without having the correct NAICS Code will not count toward the contractors’ satisfaction of the project goal nor the agencies’ overall goal attainment. Worse than not counting are the opportunities you will miss because a contractor will not reach out to invite you to bid. Be Timely in Renewing your Certification and Responding to Agency Requests for Information. You must maintain and renew your DBE certification on an annual basis. You are required to affirmatively provide to your certifying agency an annual affidavit of No Change on the anniversary date of your certification. The “No Change Affidavit” affirms that there have been no changes in the firm’s circumstances that would affect


the eligibility of the firm to participate in the DBE Program, like size, ownership, control or other material changes. In addition, the certifying agency may ask you to provide additional information related to your personal net worth or tax returns. You should always submit requested information timely. If you do, your firm will be in the best position when opportunities arise and save time from having to reapply or go through appeal process. If you don’t, you run the risk of missing out on opportunities when they do arise. Be Accessible to Prime Contractors. One of the complaints prime contractors often make is that the DBE firm is unreachable because the UCP certification listing does not have a correct email or telephone number. Paying attention to changes in your organization – like changes to estimating personnel, or changing cell phones – will enable a prime contractor to meet you. Maintaining an accurate website and contact information (emails/phone/ website) will enable you to be found. Being professional, organized and available for business is good business practice. Always be reachable.


In preparation for the largest investment in infrastructure and transportation in our nation’s history, DBEs are encouraged to take time to ensure administrative details like DBE certifications are up-to-date and accurate. Failing to do so may leave your firm behind when opportunities arise. Each state has a Unified Certification Program that can assist if you are unsure if your company’s DBE certification is ready to go when opportunities arise. The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization (OSDBU) maintains Small Business Transportation Resource Centers (SBTRCs) through a network of grantees across the country. The SBTRCs work closely with the transportation contracting community and other technical assistance providers to serve small disadvantaged transportation businesses.

Utilizingpartnershipsandindustryexpertise, SBTRCs provide business counseling that includes market research, training, certification and procurement technical assistance. All services are provided free of charge. SBTRCs also administer the US-

DOT Bonding Education Program (BEP), assist with identifying access to capital, and implement USDOT’s Women and Girls in Transportation program (WITI). Visit https:// for more information.

Lorraine D’Angelo, a nationally recognized expert on legal and regulatory risk management, is the president of LDA Compliance Consulting, Inc. She has more than 25 years’ experience in the construction industry, including a recent tenure as senior vice president for ethics and compliance at a global construction company. D’Angelo is an accredited ethics and compliance professional and a leading expert on small, women-owned, minority and DBE matters, programs, and policy implementation. For more information, contact her at (914) 548-6369 or Lorraine D’Angelo

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AGC & Procore Technologies Launch New Scholarship To Assist African American And Disadvantaged Students Studying Construction At HBCUs


rocore’s $250,000 Challenge Gift Will Help Fund Scholarships Designed to Diversify the Leadership of the Commercial Construction Industry, AGC Launching Funding Drive to Match the New Procore Grant The Associated General Contractors of America and Procore Technologies, Inc. (NYSE: PCOR), a leading provider of construction management software, are launching a new scholarship program to assist African American and disadvantaged minority students who are studying construction fields at historically black colleges and universities, or HBCUs. The new scholarship is being made possible thanks to a $250,000 challenge gift from Procore that the association will now fundraise to meet and exceed. “We don’t want to price future leaders out of their opportunity to shape the construction industry,” said Stephen E. Sandherr, the association’s chief executive officer. “These new scholarships will put a new and more diverse generation of students on track to become tomorrow’s construction leaders and innovators.” Sandherr noted that the new HBCU scholarship program is part of the association’s broader efforts to make the construction industry more diverse and inclusive. The association also operates a nationwide recruiting campaign called “Construction is Essential” to attract more diverse workers. Its Culture of Care program helps firms create more welcoming and inclusive workplaces. And its Business Case for a Diverse Industry helps construction leaders see how more diverse firms are innovative, profitable, and safe. “The ultimate outcome of these scholarships is to increase the representation of African Americans in the construction industry, where the numbers have remained too small for too long,” said Pat Wadors, Procore


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Chief Talent Officer. “This scholarship program is an extension of our investment in diversity and inclusion and workforce development, two of the industry’s most pressing needs.” The challenge gift from Procore is part of the Carpinteria, California-based technology firm’s commitment to connecting construction and technology to the tools, resources, and community needed to build a more inclusive and diverse future. Procore is supporting the industry through partnerships with minority contractor associations to provide technical and educational resources to members, and employees through Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) that foster a culture of belonging. The HBCU scholarship program will be administered by the AGC Education and Research Foundation, which awards a host of construction scholarships, funds research into key construction topics and supports faculty externships at commercial construction firms. The foundation is launching an industry-wide fundraising campaign to meet, and hopefully exceed, the initial $250,000 challenge gift from Procore. “We are asking members to invest not only in these students, but also the future of our industry,” said Darrel Gibson, the executive director of the AGC Education and Research Foundation. “Supporting these scholarships

is the best way to create a new, more diverse, generation of industry leaders.” Procore and AGC announced the new scholarship program during the association’s annual convention in Orlando, Florida. Source: AGC of America press release on September 22, 2021

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