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Wednesday, Sep 28, 2022
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Contractors — Contractors Group Lays a Foundation for Diversity

Over the past few years, numerous projects from housing complexes to shopping centers have had a growing presence in minority neighborhoods throughout San Diego County.

What has been absent from many of those projects, according to the Multi-Cultural Contractors Group (MCCG) of San Diego, are minority and women contractors.

The problem is not that those contractors and subcontractors don’t exist, according to Rickey Laster, president and CEO of the MCCG. The problem, he said, is they are often overlooked and not given a chance.

“There were a lot of people coming into the neighborhood making a lot of money and leaving,” Laster said. “Nobody in the neighborhood benefited.

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“A lot of them (minority and women subcontractors) would have bids with the city and other agencies, but what happened was they never would get the opportunity to work on the project, so they stopped (bidding).”

But that’s not because of race or gender, Laster said.

– Contractors Form

Secure Relationships

One reason large contractors have continued to use the same subcontractors, he said, is because they have a working relationship and a “certain comfort level” with those subcontractors. They know the project will be completed with no or few problems, and the work will be superb.

That comfort level is exactly what Laster is trying to create between large contractors and the more than 200 subcontractors and general contractors affiliated with the MCCG, an independent management consulting firm. The group provides services in the design, development and implementation of programs to ensure participation of historically underutilized businesses and individuals in contracting.

So far, the group has been successful in its ventures.

Laster said a working relationship has been created with Lend Lease Actus, a local general contractor that completed an $80 million Navy housing project in San Diego two years ago and a similar project in Fort Hood, Texas.

Through MCCG, the contracts awarded on the San Diego project reflected an 80 percent participation level , and more than $7 million , for minorities and women involved in the project.

The same type of relationship has been formed with Soltek Pacific general contractors of San Diego.

“I think (our relationship) has been very fruitful for the contractors that are in the Multi-Cultural Contractors Group, it’s been fruitful for Soltek and it’s been fruitful for Rickey (Laster),” said Steve Thompson, president of Soltek Pacific.

“For us, it brings emerging businesses into the marketplace who can give us more competitive bids. For emerging businesses, it gets them into the mainstream economy, and for Rickey, he gets to serve his purpose to the community. Part of his mission is to provide opportunities for emerging businesses.”

– Landscaper Hired

For Large Project

Soltek recently won a $10 million contract to complete a project in the College Grove area, and hired San Diego-based Trilogy Landscaping, a small African-American company whose projects averaged $50,000 before working with the MCCG. Trilogy completed nearly $800,000 of work for Soltek.

“They need Rickey,” Thompson said. “There is a cultural gap that he can bridge. I think to a large extent the contractors, like myself, and contractors that are in the MCCG, when they first meet there’s not a real easy or comfortable start to it. Rickey breaks down the ice barriers , he’s excellent at doing that.”

One project Laster is currently working on is with the Jacobs Foundation as a consultant for the $565 million Market Creek Plaza Project at Euclid and Market streets.

Three of the four contracts that have been awarded so far have gone to minority contractors, Laster said. Cats Escavating of San Diego, a minority-owned firm, won a $1 million contract on the project.

– Involvement Includes

Ballpark, Airport Projects

Laster has also been retained by the San Diego Air Commerce Center as their consultant for the $1 billion, 12-year Brown Field airport expansion project, and as an outreach consultant for the San Diego Padres ballpark project Downtown.

“I think (our success rate) is catching on,” Laster said. “I’ve had calls from political leaders and the construction industry. People are willing to give people opportunities now because we have a great track record.”

But MCCG’s success didn’t come without some obstacles , obstacles that are still present.

Laster, who is African-American, has faced many of the same obstacles today’s small- and mid-sized contractors face because he’s been in their shoes. For more than 20 years, he worked as a roofing contractor and had to cross many hurdles, including bonding and insurance issues and having collateral.

Through the MCCG, Laster drafted a formula to be sure minority and women contractors bypass those barriers.

– MCCG Offers

Industry Education

For the past three years, the MCCG has offered courses covering all areas of general contracting, including bonding, bidding, estimating, job casting and administration services.

Called Winning Opportunities for Responsible Contractors (WORC), the program is funded by the city of San Diego and has completely changed the way many contractors do business.

“I looked at those things as barriers,” Laster said. “Something that was in the way of granting people opportunity, so we had to find a solution to break that barrier down.”

Terrell-Ward is a local freelance writer.

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