BuildNOLA Diversity Program Announced
30 September 2015
Woodward Design+ Build is pleased to participate in the City of New Orleans’ new diversity training program, BuildNOLA. The program, which is part of the city’s ongoing effort to help minority- and woman-owned businesses participate in city contracts, is designed to help Disadvantaged Business Enterprises, or DBEs, find skilled workers, get proper bonding, navigate the public bid process and protect themselves against abuse by prime contractors. Woodward has joined the city in its the effort to cultivate more DBE firms, specifically for participation in the World Trade Center Redevelopment project.
New city program offers training, support for minority firms
29 September 2015
NEW ORLEANS — The city of New Orleans launched a new training program Tuesday in its ongoing effort to help minority- and woman-owned businesses participate in city contracts.
The six-session training program, called BuildNOLA, is designed to help Disadvantaged Business Enterprises, or DBEs, find skilled workers, get proper bonding, navigate the public bid process and protect themselves against abuse by prime contractors.
It’s a joint effort by the city’s Office of Supplier Diversity, Delgado Community College and Woodward Design Group, the local prime contractor selected to develop the World Trade Center project for the Four Seasons hotel.
BuildNOLA was introduced on the heels of key changes in the DBE program announced by the city Sept. 8. The Office of Supplier Diversity brought in legal assistance for DBEs so they can better negotiate and understand their agreements with prime contractors. The office was also given more teeth, with the power to penalize prime contractors that don’t meet DBE goals and to monitor their payments to their subcontractors to make sure DBEs don’t get short- or slow-paid, a well-known tactic to force them out of projects.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration has built up the Office of Supplier Diversity from one to six people, helping double the percentage of city work for minority- and woman-owned firms from 16 percent in 2010 to 34 percent at the end of 2014.
But the city’s goal of 35 percent DBE participation in public contracts was not made part of the city charter until last year. Even with Landrieu’s focus on increasing minority participation over his first four years in office, many DBE firms still complained that they were being used by prime contractors to win public contracts and then discarded or cut out of work after the project began.
City Councilman James Gray said he believes that will change now.
“I’ve had thousands of conversations with people who said, ‘Well, I’ve heard it before and they were never really serious and it never really worked,’” Gray said. “I thank the mayor for his leadership. He is serious. The City Council is serious. The Woodward Group is serious. We are going to make a change in this city.”
Paul Flower from Woodward said his firm joined the effort to cultivate more DBE firms for the World Trade Center development, to make sure the project adheres to the 35-percent goal. It has already awarded $22 million in electrical and mechanical work to DBEs.
That stands in stark contrast with the last time the city and the New Orleans Building Corp. awarded a contract for redeveloping the World Trade Center. In 2013, Gatehouse Capital won the project even after admitting it had no DBEs lined up and even though Landrieu’s chief deputy, Andy Kopplin, deemed Gatehouse’s DBE plan “lame.”
That bid for the World Trade Center project was eventually scrapped, and this is now the fourth effort to do so.
The first “cohort” of 31 DBE owners has already begun the BuildNOLA training program. One of the participants, Tashika Woods, just opened her business, Iron Construction and Contracting Services, in April 2015. She said she’s the only woman in the local union and often got pushed out of jobs in favor of less experienced men. But she said the city’s Office of Supplier Diversity helped her quickly get DBE certification and Iron Construction and Contracting Services has already been selected for work at Armstrong International Airport, Woodrow Wilson Charter School and others.
“I would encourage any other small businesses that are maybe start-up companies, or anybody that’s having trouble in just trying to get acquainted with the new business world, that you should give this a try,” Woods said.