ICVA and Minority Business Enterprise and Contracting goals and Women Business Enterprise and Conventions and Tourism & Hospitality and Economic Development and Diversity

Minority, women contracts rise for Convention Center project

March 30, 2009
The hiring of minority- and women-owned businesses to work on the $275 million Indiana Convention Center expansion is far ahead of state requirements and has surpassed rates that were registered for the $715 million Lucas Oil Stadium project.

More than 28 percent of the $215 million in bids awarded so far has gone to minority- and women-owned businesses. Minority-owned firms have scored 18.8 percent of the bids, while women-owned businesses have secured 9.3 percent.

On Lucas Oil Stadium, 14.7 percent of the project was awarded to minority-owned businesses and 4.3 percent was awarded to women-owned businesses. Despite the increases, not everyone is thrilled. Wanda Williams, president of Indianapolis-based Williams Cylinders & Controls Inc., feels the bidding process is still too exclusionary.

Williams, founder of the local chapter of National Association of Women Business Owners, received a $489,000 contract for plumbing supplies last May at Lucas Oil Stadium, but said she otherwise has been ignored at the bid meetings she attended.

"I have a 17-year-old business and I know I could supply them industrial supplies cheaper than what they are getting them for," Williams said. "I do business with Eli Lilly, the Army, Navy, a number of Indiana riverboats and a lot of other companies. But with these [Lucas Oil Stadium and Convention Center] projects, it just feels like the good-old-boys network."

Debra Simmons Wilson, whose firm, locally based Engaging Solutions LLC, was hired by the Indiana Stadium and Convention Building Authority to facilitate minority and women hiring on the project, said a multi-pronged attack has been used to maximize diversity hiring. Wilson said she believes the bidding process has been inclusive and fair.

"We've put our nose to the grindstone to get good contractors working on these projects, and we've used as many [women- and minority-owned businesses] as was possible," Wilson said. "We wanted to provide real opportunities for all companies in this community. And we're not done reaching out yet."

Since many minority- and women-owned firms are small businesses, there was fear the faltering economy could cause some of them to downsize or shutter, making it difficult for project managers to meet state mandates.

State lawmakers in 2005 passed legislation directing the Indiana Stadium and Convention Building Authority to grant 15 percent of all contracts in the projects to minorities and 5 percent to women.

The Lucas Oil Stadium and Convention Center expansion projects combined have granted 15.7 percent of bids (dollar-wise) to minority-owned businesses and 5.5 percent to women-owned businesses.

ISCBA Director John Klipsch said he is "reasonably pleased" with the numbers.

While Michele Howell, Indiana Minority Supplier Development Council president, said 28 percent for the Convention Center "is a good number," she fears project leaders may tone down the effort to work with minority- and women-owned business now that the goal is met.

"Creating goals like the 20-percent figure can create a false ceiling," Howell said. "I realize we have to have goals to assure minority hiring on these projects, but I want to get out of the mind-set that, once these goals are met, we can stop hiring or considering minority-owned businesses."

Howell is not surprised that the Convention Center is exceeding its goals on minority- and women-owned business hiring despite the harsh economy.

"I find that many of these companies are in fact small, but that allows them to be creative and flexible," she said. "Many are actually thriving in this economy."

Demolition of the RCA Dome—where the Convention Center expansion will be built—began in April 2008, and the cleanup will soon be completed.

The expansion, which includes the demolition of the RCA Dome and renovations to some of the existing convention center, is about 20-percent complete. The project, set to be done in December 2010, will give the Indianapolis Convention and Visitors Association 1.2 million square feet with which to work, 65 percent more than it had in the convention center and RCA Dome.

Lead architect for the project is Ratio Architects of Indianapolis, assisted by BSA LifeStructures Inc., Blackburn Architects Inc. and Domain Architecture Inc. All four firms are from Indianapolis.

Lead Construction Manager is Shiel Sexton Co. Inc., of Indianapolis, in a joint venture with Power & Sons, of Gary. Blackburn, Domain and Power & Sons are all minority-owned businesses.

The reason the rates for minority- and women-owned businesses lagged a bit on the stadium project is that there were several specialized components to the project, including the retractable roof and specialized electronics work, including the scoreboard and the video ribbon board encircling the upper reaches of the stadium's lower bowl, said Engaging Solutions' Wilson.

ISCBA officials said rates on the stadium might also have been higher if it weren't overlapping with the $1.1 billion midfield airport terminal project, which was also drawing a fair bit of attention from the available pool of minority- and women-owned business.

But Wilson said continuing outreach programs have helped escalate the numbers.

"We've worked with all the contractors to make sure they are aware of all the hiring possibilities out there, and we've held numerous outreach programs, from workshops and educational seminars to networking events for contractors and subcontractors.

"The work we did on Lucas Oil Stadium allowed us to set the groundwork for the Convention Center," she said.

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