Catching the attention of the giant transportation industry
Transportation-related agencies, contractors and project owners are increasingly interested in diverse tech-service providers
The advice for M/WBEs is to get certified, then plan on working hard to prove your quality and capability
By Claire Swedberg
The multi-billion dollar transportation infrastructure is still short on supplier diversity. Transportation as an industry was historically one of the hardest for minorities and women to crack. But today diversity
is increasing at the engineering table, on job sites
and in IT.
Plenty of transportation-related agencies, contractors and project owners are looking to bring in quality M/WBE technical service providers. But tough challenges still face today’s transportation firms and the M/WBEs who want to work for them.
Melissa L. Boyles: focus on relationships
Melissa L. Boyles has in-depth knowledge about M/WBEs in transportation, and good advice to give them. Boyles is president of the Metropolitan Phoenix, AZ chapter of WTS, a nationwide organization committed to advancing women in the transportation industry. She’s also the disadvantaged business enterprise (DBE) program manager for Metro Light Rail, a $1.4 billion transportation system for the Phoenix area that’s scheduled to open in December 2008.
“Companies are moving away from gender- and race-based programs,” Boyles declares. True, they are still seeking diverse suppliers, but just being diverse is not necessarily enough to get a procurement official’s attention.
“In today’s political climate, people need to be aware of what is happening in their own states,” says Boyles. But no matter how the local regulations read, “Start focusing on relationship building; position yourself to be a prime for contracts.”
She strongly recommends that M/WBEs get formally certified by their local government agencies, and also by an organization like NMSDC or WBENC, and that they look into joining local minority or women’s trade organizations. All these groups foster “a strong sense of community among small, minority and women business owners and offer resources to help them.”
MRM Construction’s Marie Torres: quality and service count
Marie Torres is president of MRM Construction Services (Phoenix, AZ). MRM provides technical personnel to handle quality control for prime contractors at jobsites for light rail, airports and highways. The company has been in business for six years.
A combination of perseverance and quality employees keeps MRM successful, Torres says. “We develop relationships with almost all our clients, and many of them become repeat customers.”
She emphasizes quality and service. “Understanding a project from the contractor’s perspective is crucial,” she explains. “If we’re not prompt or not accurate, the impact on the contractor is huge. One person could hold up the whole crew.”
Each year MRM adds to its staff by hiring a few quality young people and training them as soon as they finish school, or even while they’re still studying. “We instill the company’s ethics, and ‘raise’ them from the beginning,” Torres explains.
Amtrak: opportunities in engineering and IT
Amtrak is the nation’s passenger railroad, funded in part by congressional appropriation through the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). The company has been experiencing record growth in ridership; it served more than 25 million passengers last year.
The railroad giant sees value in employing a diverse array of suppliers: MBEs, WBEs and DBEs. Walt Livingston, director of supplier diversity, notes that prospective suppliers must begin by getting certified by the applicable state DOT certification program, by the SBA and also by NMSDC, WBENC or both.
Grant agreements with the U.S. DOT encourage Amtrak to utilize small, socially and economically disadvantaged concerns, Livingston says. Since most firms in those categories are not large, Amtrak sets subcontract goals for its prime contractors’ utilization of DBEs for Amtrak work.
There are opportunities for diverse suppliers in engineering, Livingston says, “if the firm can demonstrate experience providing engineering design services in the disciplines used by the unique rail system. The firm must come with references, a seasoned design team and the ability to demonstrate that it might know something Amtrak engineers don’t.”
Amtrak uses engineering services in areas like track construction, electric traction, communication and signals, even construction of stations and bridges. This year, Amtrak is particularly interested in engineering firms with experience in bridge and tunnel security.
Another need is for civil engineers, Livingston says, and there’s a variety of niche work for other kinds of engineers as well as architects. One interesting niche involves the overhead catenary system for electric traction. Communication and signal engineering expertise is needed for work on signaling.
“Amtrak also needs engineering firms with experience in structural steel fabrication,” Livingston says.
Besides the variety of engineering projects, there’s work for IT contractors on both long-term and large temporary projects. Most of Amtrak’s IT needs are in its Washington, DC HQ; others are in Philadelphia, PA. Security expertise is important here too: Amtrak will be seeking firms with experience in the hardening of IT systems and alarm monitoring.
Livingston notes that it’s essential for technical services contractors to make high-quality work their first priority. “You have to earn your place on the ‘A’ list,” he says. “When we select our service providers we always look at quality and depth of knowledge first. They have to be able to visit the field and understand the requirements of the site.”
Idaho Transportation Department likes to work with good partners
The Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) uses suppliers and consultants to supplement staff in both IT and engineering.
“Diversity is important to the department,” says Kathy Chase, manager of business and support management at ITD. Diversity, she explains, provides a wider variety of opinions, styles and experiences. “It helps the department work efficiently and produces the best result.”
If a supplier is providing a product, of course it must meet or exceed ITD’s specifications and be delivered on time. If the supplier is providing a service, the department expects qualified and experienced staff who understand what to do and can deliver the mutually agreed upon scope of work in the required timeframe.
“The best thing a supplier can do,” Chase says, “is to develop a very good understanding of our operating philosophy and standards. This can be done by reviewing information on our website, or perhaps by teaming with other suppliers who have experience with us or other transportation systems.”
The department, she concludes, “prefers to work with suppliers who have demonstrated that they can be good partners.”
American Airlines: a need for IT pros
Sheri Macko, manager of supplier diversity, says that American Airlines has potential opportunities for IT contractors for both temporary and permanent projects.
“Obviously we look at price, functionality, experience, capabilities and flexibility,” Macko says. “We’re looking for businesses that want to partner and grow with us.”
As everywhere, certification is the important first step for the M/WBE. Next comes doing the appropriate homework. “When you go to meet with a commodity manager for the first time you need to be prepared. You should know our business and have a good understanding of the criteria we’re looking at.”
American Airlines has spent more than $3 billion with diverse suppliers since 1989, and the emphasis will continue, Macko says. “Diversity is a good business decision. We know it makes sense. It’s important for our supplier base to reflect our customer base, which is getting more diverse all the time.”
CPMS: perseverance and the right attitude
Making it in the transportation market requires “perseverance and the right attitude,” says Eugene Marsh, president and CEO of Construction Project Management Services, Inc (CPMS, NJ, NY, CT and PA). CPMS is both an
MBE and a veteran-owned business. Its engineers work on transportation infrastructure as well as educational, commercial, residential and healthcare facilities.
“Transportation is a unique industry,” says Marsh. He thinks there may be fewer M/WBEs serving this field than in most other industries. “It requires individuals with civil engineering backgrounds, and there is a shortage of diverse suppliers with ex- perience in that area,”
Of course, he notes with a smile, that makes the opportunities even greater for M/WBEs who do have the right credentials. “It’s a very lucrative industry to be associated with, but you have to be able to fill the niche with bricks-and-mortar experience.”
CPMS, Marsh says, makes it its business to put together “the right team with the right experience. You have to add value to the customer’s team,” he says. “You have to have the right attitude, integrity, experience and the ability to sell yourself. You have to know what’s in the pipeline,” and that includes understanding what projects a company needs done, what kinds of skills they may need, and “when the paradigm is going to shift.”
Turner embraces minority business
Turner Construction Co (New York, NY) is a client of CPMS, and works with many other minority construction businesses as well. As a nationwide general construction firm, Turner includes a good quantity of transportation infrastructure in its work. Its aviation group, for example, features a mobile staff ready to facilitate airport projects wherever they take place.
“Turner embraces minority business,” declares Hilton Smith, SVP for community affairs. His responsibilities include mentor/protégé programs and the Turner School of Construction Management for minority and women-owned businesses. The school, he says, is where Turner’s partner M/WBEs can go “to learn how we conduct business, how to network, how to expand their business growth.”
Diversity, Smith notes, has “broadened the competitive edge in construction.” Since 1979 Turner’s total number of contracts with M/WBEs has surpassed 47,000, at a value of more than $16 billion.
“Now we’re expanding our horizons to look at IT firms as well as consulting engineering firms and safety organizations. We’re looking to expand our avenues.”
Smith’s advice mirrors that of other savvy supplier diversity managers in the field. He urges suppliers to learn all they can about the transportation industry before venturing into it.
“Make important contacts with business owners who know the industry,” he says. “This is an industry where they expect technical support capable of working hard and working smart. And don’t forget that the business changes every day!”
TRANSPORTATION-INDUSTRY SUPPLIER DIVERSITY PROGRAMS
Check out the active programs at these companies.
|Company and location
(Ft. Worth, TX)
|U.S. passenger railroad
|BNSF Railway Co
(Fort Worth, TX)
|Dallas Area Rapid Transit
(DART, Dallas, TX)
|Regional transit authority
(Los Angeles, CA)
|Transportation infrastructure; flagship company for AECOM
|Idaho Transportation Department
(ITD, Boise, ID)
|State transportation organization
(New York, NY)
|Global construction firm
(South Portland, ME)
|Information management for commercial
and government vehicle fleets
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