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Supporting minority construction businesses will strengthen New York City

By Grant Gagnier

The pandemic has created real challenges for the construction industry overall. But there is no doubt minority- and women-owned firms (MWBEs) are being disproportionately impacted.

An August 2020 Federal Reserve Bank of New York report found that the number of Black-owned businesses in New York State fell by 70 percent from February to June. Meanwhile, city government, which is a major booster of MWBE firms, is facing a financial crisis.

This means bigger, more established construction companies have a critical role to play in creating the foundation for a better, more equitable tomorrow.


As we continue to focus on the economic recovery of New York City and the central role our industry will play in it, now is the time for construction leaders to maximize partnerships with minority and underrepresented businesses across the board – not just because it’s an important part of addressing historic inequities, but because it will make our recovery stronger for everyone.

Those of us responsible for dozens of project sites across New York need to make sure we are adequately inclusive of MWBE businesses.

At Gilbane, we have increased our baseline goal to 20 percent MWBE participation in the five boroughs, with the commitment to raise it to 25 percent in 2022. Currently, our public portfolio has more than 50 percent MWBE participation on projects in New York City, demonstrating strong participation is possible.

Meeting and exceeding these commitments requires an all-hands-on-deck approach. No matter how much staff a construction firm dedicates to MWBE compliance, moving the needle will require all staff to understand their respective role and responsibility in driving inclusion. To this end, we’ve created an economic inclusion task force that will draw upon leaders from across the organization to generate innovative strategies for promoting economic inclusion and provide a collaborative forum to shape and implement those strategies.

Our new Gilbane Rising Contractors program will help boost promising MWBE contractors and strengthen the supply of firms available to meet our elevated goals. We are harnessing our internal expertise, mentorship, and advocacy to help these firms navigate the complex world of RFPs, financial estimation, insurance and risk management, and business development to give them the tools and resources to help them thrive. A hallmark of the program is mentorship by a senior member of our team who will serve as an internal champion well beyond the formal training.

The success of our efforts will be measured not by how many businesses we can graduate from a training program, but by how many businesses we put to work. I believe this type of mentorship will play a crucial role in ensuring the conclusion of training is just the beginning of our relationship with these firms, not the end.

Within 48 hours, we received over 120 applications for this program from New York City-based businesses representing over 2,000 employees – underscoring the need and opportunity to expand our contractor pipeline. Doing so will help all of us in the long term.

New Yorkers have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. But we have a collaborative spirit despite the competitive nature of our industry and have always had each other’s backs in times of crisis. Never has that willingness to lift one another up been more important than it is now.

Grant Gagnier is Vice President and leads the New York City Business Unit for Gilbane Building Company.

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