It is no secret there is a development boom happening in Detroit. Millions of dollars are being poured into projects and even more are in the pipeline.
As the renaissance continues and construction companies reap the financial benefits a question remains. How will this wealth be spread to benefit all businesses, including those owned by women and minorities?
Jason Cole, executive director of the Michigan Minority Contractors Association, says no matter the project size, there are women and minority-owned firms qualified to do the work. His group works on behalf of contractor inclusion, education and advocacy.
“From financing and general contracting, to hammers and nails in boards, we have firms ready to meet the need,” says Cole. “The idea of there not being qualified contractors available just isn’t the case. While progress has been made in the traditional makeup of project teams, there is still much work to be done to reach parity. The process of securing contracts, especially for commercial projects, can be a long one, with pitfalls seen and unseen.”
He says there are three elements of success with most construction projects.
“The best piece of advice I received is to grow slow and smart. Every piece of business out there with a big price tag isn’t necessarily right for us.” -Rachael Saltmarshall, Owner, Aldewin Rose Contracting
“There is either a piece of paper, money or a person that is the key to these projects,” Cole says.
Companies must have people with the skills needed, file the proper documents and have the money to start and complete the project.
“I have been involved in the industry and have so many contacts. I can usually help a firm over these hurdles. The key is to have collaborators and connectors to access what is needed,” Cole says.
“There are not enough people putting pressure on those in power.” – Jason Cole, Executive Director, Michigan Minority Contractors Association
Under Mayor Coleman A. Young, Detroit had a program supporting women and minority involvement in city contracts. The Sheltered Market Ordinance looked to improve participation, although the targets were not always met. Cole sees the lack of a similar program today as a hindrance to success for traditionally underserved firms.
“There are not enough people putting pressure on those in power,” he says.
Rachael Saltmarshall, owner of Aldewin Rose Contracting, works primarily in the residential space, but has also begun to venture into larger commercial projects.
“I have friends that have had to go out of business because of the slow payment process on some projects,” she says. “The best piece of advice I received is to grow slow and smart. Every piece of business out there with a big price tag isn’t necessarily right for us.”
Saltmarshall got her start in 2012, working with her husband Marcellus, and has managed to find a profitable niche along with her sons through a steady flow of projects and a keen eye towards customer service. Still, in the male-dominated field, women often face unique challenges, but she says the key to success, regardless of gender, is knowing your craft.
“I can tell you I can do the work, or I can show you. I think once people see the quality of our work, they are more open to us doing work,” Saltmarshall says.
L.S. Brinker, a minority-owned construction management business, has completed work on many high-profile projects in Detroit, including Ford Field, Comerica Park, General Motors Global Headquarters and the Double Tree Fort Shelby Hotel. It is currently working on the Little Caesars global resource center, the Mike Ilitch School of Business, and the Detroit Medical Center Sports Medicine Institute.
Still, all companies face one big challenge – a skilled labor shortage – and work is being done to try and solve the problem.
Through the Detroit Skilled Trades Employment Program, the City of Detroit is partnering with local unions and their Joint Apprentice Training Committees (JATC) to set annual goals that will help increase the percentage of Detroiters in local’s membership.
Participating JATCs and unions agree 25 percent of their first-year apprenticeship slots will go to Detroit residents. Even with this program and stated involvement goals, there are still gaps.
Progress is being made for women and minorities in construction, but there is still a long way to go.
There is a real sense in the industry of an imbalance in women and minority participation, but evidence is needed. Cole says a study should be conducted to determine the disparity is for women and minorities. If the issue is significant as some believe, that study should receive support from Detroit City Council and the mayor’s office, Cole says.
Despite challenges, there are signs of progress, according to Cole.
“People are working more collaboratively in a way I’ve never seen,” he says. “This is a new day for Detroit and we want to make sure everyone is able to take advantage of the growth taking place.”