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Minority firms worry large companies will take stimulus

Joyce Lacey, owner of Lacey’s Trucking LLC, Milwaukee, asks a question during an information session Wednesday hosted by the National Association of Minority Contractors. Lacey asked what is being done to help minority contractors receive stimulus money. She was told the influx of money will create enough work for all companies.   The Daily Reporter photo by Dustin Block
Left: Michele Carter, manager of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s disadvantaged business enterprise program, speaks Wednesday at a session hosted by the National Association of Minority Contractors. Carter encouraged minority contractors to aggressively pursue stimulus contracts.

Right: Joyce Lacey, owner of Lacey’s Trucking LLC, Milwaukee, asks a question during an information session Wednesday hosted by the National Association of Minority Contractors. Lacey asked what is being done to help minority contractors receive stimulus money. She was told the influx of money will create enough work for all companies.

The Daily Reporter photo by Dustin Block

Dustin Block
dustin.block@dailyreporter.com

Michael Brandt is skeptical minority contractors will receive meaningful work from federal stimulus money.

The former owner of Milwaukee-based HMB Contractors Inc., which closed in 2007, said he landed $7 million in work on the Marquette Interchange as a subcontractor but only got paid $700,000. The prime contractor self-performed a lot of the work, leaving Brandt with little to show for his efforts to land the deal.

“They’d do our work and then act surprised that it was ours,” Brandt said. “They knew what they were doing.”

Brandt was not alone sharing his frustration Wednesday at an information session on stimulus money hosted by the Wisconsin chapter of the National Association of Minority Contractors at the Hilton Milwaukee City Center.

Joyce Lacey, owner of Lacey’s Trucking LLC, Milwaukee, said she does not see provisions to help minority-owned contractors receive stimulus money.

“There should be something to ensure small businesses get some of the participation,” she said. “Small businesses need the help. My business is in trouble.”

But Michele Carter, manager of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Program, said help is available for small companies. She encouraged minority contractors to develop relationships with prime contractors and seek partnerships with other small businesses to better compete for contracts.

Carter said WisDOT can help by lobbying prime contractors to work with minority-owned firms. The agency also plans to break down large projects into manageable pieces for smaller companies. WisDOT used that technique on the Marquette Interchange project and achieved 21 percent minority participation.

Carter said small businesses must aggressively market their services if they want to land jobs. She said that is a challenge for minority-owned firms that have been burned by prime contractors in the past, but the reality is large contractors are going to win the stimulus jobs.

“The opportunities are real, but they’re not for everybody,” Carter said. “You have to figure out how to compete in our existing process.”

The meeting Wednesday came at an important time for minority contractors, Carter said. WisDOT’s first bid letting for stimulus work is set for April 28; additional letting dates are scheduled for May and June.

The burst of federal money, along with WisDOT’s regular lettings, could require large contractors to reach out to small companies in order to finish jobs, Carter said.

“We hope the increased volume will force people to do things differently,” she said.

But Brandt said Carter’s words amount to “lip service” without stronger protections for small companies working on stimulus projects. His company played by the rules on the Marquette Interchange project, he said, and wound up with a tenth of the money for which it had contracted.

“What are they going to do to improve things?” Brandt asked.

Brian Mitchell, vice president of the Wisconsin NAMC chapter, said the process will not improve until minority contractors work together to get officials’ attention.

“We need to speak with a louder voice,” he said.

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