Dolan Media Newswires
Charlotte, NC — Joanne Cheatham smiled as she talked to Michael Grey. The two strangers chatted briefly, exchanging phone numbers before parting. Cheatham beamed hopefully as she walked away.
“It’s all about relationships right now,” Cheatham said. “Everyone wants to have a relationship.”
Grey and Cheatham did not meet at a speed-dating event.
They met at a matchmaking program of a different sort, an outreach meeting hosted last week in Charlotte by the North Carolina Department of Transportation. It’s meant to connect Disadvantaged Business Enterprise subcontractors with the prime contractors selected to bid on two North Carolina highway construction projects: the widening of I-85 in Salisbury from north of Long Ferry Road to state Route 150; and the completion of the I-485 loop around Charlotte.
Sealed bids for the I-85 project were due on April 6. The name of the apparent low bidder will be released on April 22, and projects will be awarded on May 6. Bidding for the 485 project is scheduled to be opened on May 21, and projects will be awarded on Sept. 10.
A whiff of desperation drifted through the Charlotte outreach, as subs hovered around representatives from the prime-contracting firms, hoping to get a card in the right person’s hand. With unemployment in the construction industry close to 25 percent and activity practically paralyzed, subcontractors are hurting for work.
“With the economy, it’s been hard to get work, and this is the biggest project that’s come to this area in a while,” said Kojo Sapon, president of the Charlotte-based hauling company Express Logistics.
Cheatham, president of the Mount Airy-based Carolina Environmental Contracting, was hoping that her in-person connection with Grey, assistant project manager of The Lane Construction Corporation, would give her an advantage when she put in her bid for sediment control on the I-485 project.
“Anytime you can put your face in front of somebody and talk to them on a one-on-one basis, I think it just sets you apart,” Cheatham said.
Since the projects have received federal money, they have to meet DBE goals for projects. For the I-85 project, the goal is that 15 percent of the total cost of the project be allotted to DBE contractors, while the I-485 project has a 13 percent DBE goal.
“DBE goals are established to allow minority and women contractors to get opportunities to work on transportation projects,” said Shelton Russell, director of business opportunity and workforce development for the NCDOT. “We look at where the project is located, the kind of work involved, the availability of work involved.”
Several subcontractors at the event said that, given the opportunity, they may be able to charm one of the primes into looking more closely at their bid than at others’.
“People work with people they like,” Sapon said. “If you get to meet someone, and you can get them to like you, they’re more likely to work with you. … I come in here, I meet with the guy, so if I call him at the office, he remembers who I am.”