Construction Politics: Minority group and developers agree on plan for MWBEs
The Minority Business Leadership Council and the powerful Building Trades Employers' Association agreed to work together to ensure a fairer share of New York City construction projects for minority- and women-owned enterprises, particularly in the reconstruction of lower Manhattan. The groundbreaking partnership is expected to result in joint networking events for members of both organizations. 'Our two organizations will now work together to create activities for our members to share information about construction projects,' Louis Coletti, president and CEO of the BTEA, told TNJ. The association represents 1,500 building contractors throughout the city.
The agreement between the two sides came in a May 6 meeting called by Commissioner Robert Walsh of New York City's Department of Small Business Services and James Heyliger, president of the Minority Business Leadership Council, after the council learned that the BTEA, Silverstein Properties Inc., one of the city's biggest developers and the landlord of the World Trade Center site, and other developers planned to create their own entity to oversee the participation of MWBEs in city projects. That entity, the Construction Opportunity Council, effectively sidelined the Leadership Council, which had formally notified the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. board that it wanted to be involved in post-9/11 rebuilding plans. It would have created an exclusive database of MWBEs selected for their experience, expertise and certifications.
The Leadership Council was said to be incensed by the idea of the COC, arguing that it effectively would have unionized construction work and apprenticeship standards, thus eliminating contract opportunities for the majority of MWBEs, which tend to be nonunion shops. The COC idea was killed when the two sides met in May. 'What we ultimately want is for the numbers of MWBE contractors to also increase,' says Coletti. 'Now that the COC will not be established, we both will work toward that goal.'
Sources close to the talks told TNJ that Commissioner Walsh, other members of his department, plus representatives of the Leadership Council, the New York City Council, Silverstein Properties and Tishman Construction Corp., which is responsible for overseeing contracting and building activities, were at the meeting. The developers agreed to work through the Leadership Council to identify qualified MWBEs for work to be done in the Lower Manhattan and World Trade Center redevelopment projects.
The agreement comes as the city embarks on a major construction agenda that includes the rebuilding of lower Manhattan, expanding the Jacob K. Javits Center, constructing a new football stadium for the New York Jets, upgrading the subway and highway systems, and building residential facilities for an Olympic village in anticipation of New York City hosting the Summer Olympic Games in 2012 (See Building Boom in the June 2004 issue of TNJ).
Leadership Council sources note that many of these projects already are under way and that the ratio of money spent with white businesses to minority businesses is 5 to 1. 'The money to be made is as prime contractors, not in third- and fourth-tier contracts,' says John Robinson, president of the National Minority Business Council and a member of the Leadership Council. 'We need to change the formula to allow MWBEs a real opportunity to share in contracts and profits.'
While New York City has no established MWBE mandate for projects funded with city money, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has sought to make it easier for minorities to win procurement contracts. 'The mayor has taken definite steps to strengthen the MWBE program by creating Executive Order 36 in June of 2003,' says Ethan Davidson, spokesperson for the city's Small Business Services department. 'This order will assist MWBEs in contracting opportunities, better prepare them to compete for city contracts and help them navigate the procurement process.'
By Ines Bebea