Monday, March 31, 2003

Small, minority, women-owned contractors got share of ballpark

Priority for Hamilton County: Project had own consultant

By John Eckberg
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Darraugh Butler
Darraugh Butler, president of D. Butler Management Consulting , worked with the Great American Ball Park construction team to identify and include minority businesses in the construction.

(Enquirer file photo)
| ZOOM |
When the Great American Ball Park opens to its first regular-season game this afternoon, tens of thousands of baseball fans are not likely to realize the role played by the region's small and medium-sized businesses.

A majority of the infrastructure and parking improvements at the new ballpark, for instance, came from the drawing boards of small businesses or businesses owned by minorities or women, according to statistics compiled by Hamilton County.

Elsewhere on the project, they accounted for:

• Sixty percent of the $12.9 million east parking garage.

• Sixty percent of the $17.1 million site improvement contract.

• Thirty-seven percent of the $214 million spent on the ballpark itself.

• Ninety-three percent of the $8.5 million for contract management.

"We did better than with Paul Brown Stadium," said Bernice L. Walker, director of small, minority and female business development for Hamilton County.

"One of the reasons was the program was new on this project and we had a small business consultant right on the job site. That helped out a lot. It got good and accurate information to the small businesses interested in working with us."

Showing an interest in the work, actually seeking it, is always going to be a critical first step for any small enterprise on a big job like the ballpark.

Lisa Rowell, an engineer and principal with Infrastructure Services Inc., an Akron-based company with offices in Blue Ash, says that without initiative, a company might just as well pack it in.

"It's all about networking and marketing," Rowell said. "You have to be proactive to get the work. If you're proactive in your approach, you have a better opportunity to get additional services for your company."

Infrastructure Services handled all topographical surveys for the site, as well as assisting with concrete testing and other administrative support. Eight are employed in the local office.

James Clingman, principal with Triad Development LLC, a project development and business consulting group based in Springdale, is not so sure that minority companies did any better with Great American Ball Park than at Paul Brown Stadium.

After all, he said, Cincinnati's minority population is at 45 percent and growing.

"I don't want a number for minorities," he said. "I want a number for blacks, and I was told it was 11 percent. Now my question is what does it represent? And these are jobs that are no longer there because the park is finished."

He said raw numbers can conceal reality. For instance, a minority electrical supplier at Paul Brown Stadium received a $146,000 contract on a job but pocketed only $3,500.

"That guy is just serving as a pass-through," he said.

Clingman is keeping his eyes peeled for continuing work at the stadium: The suppliers of restroom materials, the vendors, the suppliers of food items.

The county did not break out participation along ethnic lines for Great American Ball Park, said Sonya Walton, small business coordinator for D. Butler Management Consulting, a downtown group hired to oversee the county's small business participation.

"We were not even required to break out the numbers along minority lines, but we did it anyway," she said.

"The goal was a small-business goal. Still, we decided it was in our best interest to break out the minority numbers to show that we are being inclusive."

She estimated that black-owned businesses received about 10 percent of the work.

This time around, the county took precautions in an effort to curtail pass-through companies working at Great American Ball Park. Companies had to be certified by an agency that they were not pass-through companies.

"The process is very, very tedious," she said.

Letters of intent were collected to ensure that prime contractors were committed to using small businesses. Forms showing payout, contract values and remaining work were monitored monthly, she said.

"I do that for every single contractor. At one time, there were 45 or 50," she said. "People need to understand what we did to ensure inclusion."

Also, authorities sought out small businesses before the first shovelful of dirt was moved.

Before construction, Phillip Bunton, principal at Bunton and Associates, was hired to compile a database from local groups concerned with small-business issues of all small and medium-sized businesses in the region.

The database was used as a contact list for companies that had expertise in areas that were about to be bid.

"It was absolutely a proactive approach. It was a way of measuring capacity of the small business community," he said

Walton said that as leaders grapple with a new convention center project, estimated at $160 million, executives and minority companies need to put the past behind them.

"I understand the frustration people feel with Paul Brown Stadium because it was not fair. But people need to look forward, not dwell in the past and move forward," Walton said.



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