Supporting Women, Minorities As Business Leaders

Randy Petersen Post-Bulletin, Rochester, Minn.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Randy Petersen takes a look at how the community of Rochester, Minnesota is proactively supporting women and minority-owned businesses to succeed.

Rochester

Darcy Tello said she's noticed changes since she started Med City Installation in 2019.

She said starting the commercial flooring installation business wasn't difficult, but earning respect in a field dominated by males was a challenge.

"I even had someone ask me if I was the secretary," she said.

Nearly two years later, her company with nine employees is taking on more projects, including larger ones connected to Destination Medical Center, and she said things have improved.

"It's not questioned as much anymore," she said of being a woman at the head of the company.

MEETING GOALS When the 20-year DMC initiative was established five years ago, the state required goals to ensure women- and minority-owned businesses were able to participate.

The 2015 goals called for 4 percent participation in construction projects, as well as professional services. In the last four years, DMC-supported projects have seen 7.2 percent of construction business go to targeted business and 5.1 percent of professional services filled by the targeted businesses.

"Because of these goals, the prime contractors need to do more to reach out to meet these goals," said Jorrie Johnson, Rochester's targeted business and workforce compliance project manager.

The targeted businesses aren't exclusively owned by women or minorities. They also include businesses owned by veterans and companies operated by someone facing another identified disadvantage.

To qualify for the count, however, the businesses must be certified. Johnson said several options exist for certification, but the local number of businesses that have achieved the status remains low. As a result, approximately 90 percent of targeted business contracts tracked in DMC efforts have come from companies located outside of Rochester.

Johnson said 20 or so state-certified companies exist in the Rochester area, up from about a dozen when she started working with businesses in mid-2019.

She said she continues efforts, hoping to slowly build the local list. "We are trying to get local so that we have more locally owned targeted businesses getting those contracts, not just from the metro area," she said.

MIXED EXPERIENCES Tello said she believes certification has helped her establish herself locally, earning contracts in the city's Chateau Theatre, as well as the new Hyatt House Hotel being constructed at the intersection of Civic Center Drive and First Avenue Northwest.

"I think being certified opens many doors," she said, adding that seeing the opportunities took time.

Melissa Brinkman, owner and CEO of Custom Alarm, said the same thing. The Rochester business became certified a year after she took over the family operation.

She said the process and paperwork took about seven months to complete. But certification has helped raise awareness of the company with DMC.

Custom Alarm installed fire alarms at the new Hilton Hotel at Center Street and Broadway Avenue and other projects throughout the city.

With the city of Rochester joining DMC efforts to establish goals for hiring targeted businesses for public projects, Brinkman said she believes opportunities will increase.

In November, the city approved the contracting goals, which match the updated DMC goals seeking 7 percent of contracts go to targeted businesses.

Before retiring this month, former DMC Economic Development Agency Director Lisa Clarke said the increased goals will provide some challenges, but will also make sure the benefits related to DMC are widespread.

"It's not just numbers," she said. "Rather it's about adding diversity and involvement all across the board on DMC."

One Rochester certified business owner said the effort provides a good aspiration for the city and DMC effort, even if his company has not seen direct benefits since completing the process in 2017.

Jose Rivas, owner of CRW architecture + design group Inc., said he was encouraged to become certified by a former DMC Corp. board member, but hasn't seen a project come his way.

Since most DMC-related design work goes to national firms with unique expertise that subcontract with smaller local companies, he said it's easy to be overlooked.

At the same time, he said he's hesitant to pursue jobs solely based on his company's status as a certified minority-owned business.

"We really don't see ourselves as quota-fillers," he said. "We have the expertise to be hire on our own merits."

Tello said she understands the concern, but she sees the certification as a way to get a foot in the door, where she will be able to prove her ability to do the work.

ADDING OPPORTUNITY Patrick Seeb, the new DMC EDA director, said additional efforts are being taken to help ensure more local businesses see opportunities as new public projects arise.

The Heart of the City project surrounding Rochester's Peace Plaza is an example. Project organizers divided the overall effort into smaller projects to allow smaller companies to bid on the jobs, rather than relying on a larger company to hire them.

Seeb said a similar process will be followed in future projects with the goal of adding opportunity for all local companies, including women- and minority-owned businesses.

"They can get their foot in the door, get established and grow to a point where they can be more competitive in the future," he said.

Rivas said he sees merit in the effort, but added that he'd like to see city projects take an even greater focus on hiring local companies.

"I do think it is important that public dollars are spent by giving everyone an opportunity," he said.

Johnson said that might be part of a future discussion, but DMC efforts need to take a broader scope, since they are funded with state, as well as local, dollars.

At this point, the city has reported having only two projects in 2021 that will require meeting the targeted business goals, since the effort is launching with a $5 million cost threshold for the goal. Plans call for lowering the dollar amount over time to $175,000 by 2025, which will make the new goals part of more city projects.

WORKSHOPS TARGET DIVERSITY The city of Rochester and Destination Medical Center Economic Development Agency are partnering with Minnesota departments of Administration and the Office of Civil Rights to provide workshops to help certify small businesses and win bids on state and local municipal projects.

A certification-application workshop for women-, minority- and veteran-owned companies is set for 9 a.m. Feb. 4. It is being offered virtually and in-person through the Small Business Development Center at Rochester Community and Technical College in Heintz Center, 1956 College View Road SE, Rochester, in Room H1317.

A second workshop on bidding and bonding will be offered virtually at 9 a.m. March 4, providing access to experts on bidding government contracts and construction bonding

"Entrepreneurs are encouraged to attend these workshops," said Jorrie Johnson, Rochester's targeted business and workforce compliance project manager. "For local women and minority-owned companies who are eager to get certified and bid on city and DMC contracts, these workshops will assist with certification applications and inform them of the bid letting process."

Pre-registration has begun and will end Friday, unless the capacity of 20 people is reached earlier.

Registration for both workshops is required. To register, contact Orlanda Klinkhammer at [email protected] ___ Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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