Forum Held to Bridge the Gap Between Minority Contractors and Developers

Wednesday, July 27, 2011, 11:33 PM- BUFFALO NEWS
By Maryellen Tighe
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“Connections to Aid Businesses with Jobs”

Tashene Eubanks and Sammie Davis Jr. seem like a perfect business pair. Eubanks is a compliance officer for the City of Buffalo. Davis Jr. is a lead inspector and owner of an inspection company, Davis & Bartholomew. But the two had never met before a Wednesday morning forum designed to connect women and minority business owners with developers. “I wanted to come out to hear from MBEs (Minority Business Enterprises), to hear some of their complaints,” Eubanks said. “I think I can assist them with some neighborhood programs and some unoccupied rehab that we do.”

A lack of connections between minority contractors and developers was one of the problems minority- and women-owned businesses were having with finding jobs, said Andrea Thomas, special projects coordinator for Heart of the City Neighborhoods Inc. By building connections, these businesses could compete for jobs some may not have known existed.

Heart of the City Neighborhoods works to encourage the development of sustainable projects to improve the Lower West Side of Buffalo. It hosted the forum after noticing there were many jobs minority businesses could compete for, but there were few businesses applying, said Executive Director Stephanie Simeon.
“Our concern was to say ‘Where are they? We know they’re here,'” Simeon said. “We have this money available. We have work and they want to work, but why are we not connecting?”

There are three areas businesses need to need to concentrate on to win contracts, said Shandra Spicer, president and chief executive officer of S&W Contracting of WNY. Small-business owners need to invest in their infrastructure, understand developers and their mission, and build relationships. “In order to become successful small-business owners, we need to understand that we have to be more than just technical,” Spicer said.

A common problem small businesses have is that the owner may be a crack electrician or a whiz at laying down floor tile, but doesn’t know much about accounting or the financial side of running a company. Sometimes, it pays for those businesses to hire someone to make sure bills are paid on time, invoices are sent out on time and the books are in good shape, she said.

Understanding what developers do and how their business works also can help small businesses market their skills and products, Spicer said. Relationships are important because developers are more willing to hire a name they know. “For both developers and contractors, there is great risk for every project,” she said. “If we’re the cause or the reason why the developer falls behind schedule, that destroys the relationship.”
These relationships are especially important as the state encourages more work to go to minority- and women-owned businesses, she said. Companies should make sure to be included in those minority-targeted programs through merit, not mandates.

By getting his heating and cooling certification and green building certification, Darrell Neal plans to show he deserves the work he gets. Neal hopes to work for a contractor, then start his own business once he knows the ropes, he said.
“I’m looking to go on with somebody so I can learn the ins and outs of the business,” Neal said. “I want to have other credentials behind what I have now.” He came to the forum to connect with other businesses, the same goal as Eric Schiffman, Belmont Housing Resources for WNY senior program manager.

Schiffman said he made some connections with people he hadn’t met before, which is what makes these types of meetings valuable. “If you can find a way to get the contractors out … there’s a lot of money to be made if you know where to look,” he said. “You can never have enough contractors, whether they’re women or minority or not. Quality contractors are hard to find anywhere.”

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