Minorities Lose Access to City Construction:

Proposal 2’s ban on affirmative action is blamed for drop in work awarded to diverse firms

 

United States

 

Grand Rapid Press ( Michigan)

February 9, 2008

 

Grand Rapid, MI — DeCarto Draper says his worst fears were confirmed after Michigan voters passed Proposal 2, the constitutional amendment banning affirmative action programs for local governments and schools.  

Draper, who owns a construction management firm, said he and other minority-owned businesses have seen a drop in calls from contractors who want him to subcontract on city construction jobs.

"We were afraid of this," said Draper, who serves as vice president of the West Michigan Minority Contractors Association.  

City Equal Opportunity Director Ingrid Scott-Weekley says a preliminary study of the city’s 2007 construction contracts appears to confirm Draper’s fears.

While the city increased its construction spending by 45 percent last year, minority and women-owned businesses saw sharp declines in the amount of work they received. The value of subcontracts with minority-owned companies fell 45 percent, or nearly $1.2 million. Subcontracts with women-owned businesses fell 70 percent, or $582,000, according to preliminary figures her office collected.  

Meanwhile, the value of subcontracts with majority-owned firms shot up 505 percent, or $24.3 million, Scott-Weekley said.

Although her figures are preliminary, Scott-Weekley said she believes Proposal 2 is the main cause for the shift in dollars. In some cases, she said, the contractors may have stopped reporting subcontracts with minority- and women-owned companies because they believed it would violate Proposal 2.  

Draper, whose company recently completed the face-lift for the Inner City Christian Fellowship’s headquarters at 920 Cherry St. SE, said ending the city’s program allowed many contractors to return to their old habits.

"When that no longer became an incentive, they went back to the old boys’ club," Draper said. "People do business with people they know and, unless there’s some provision to help us get to know people, you’re going to suffer like this."  

Mayor George Heartwell said the study results bear out his fears about Proposal 2.

"I’m just convinced that if we’re going to be a successful city in future, we have to be a city that incorporates all of our citizens and provides opportunity for economic gain for all of our citizens," he said.  

Heartwell said he does not believe white contractors are conspiring to cut minority- and women-owned subcontractors out of the picture.

"We work with people we feel most comfortable with and, when we do that, it tends to segregate us, and it tends to perpetuate the imbalance and injustice you see in those figures."  

John Helmholdt, a spokesman for Grand Rapids Public Schools, said there also was a decline in minority subcontractors on school-related construction jobs. He said the district does not have figures measuring the size of the drop-off.

Richard Ortega, president of the West Michigan Minority Contractors Association, said the city’s incentive program encouraged contractors to form relationships they would not have otherwise formed.  

On the bright side, Ortega said more private sector construction jobs have opened up because of diversity programs instituted by Spectrum Health, the Van Andel Institute and Christman Co., which is building the health care complex on the Michigan Street Hill downtown.

Bill Rietscha, Spectrum Health’s vice president of facilities, said they decided to get "pretty aggressive" about hiring minority and women-owned sub-contractors last year.  

Minority participation has become a big part of the bid evaluations for contractors hoping to work on the $92 million Lemmon-Holton Cancer Pavilion, the $250 million Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital and a pending $98 million renovation of Blodgett Hospital, Rietscha said.

Besides hiring minority and women-owned sub-contractors, Spectrum also meaures the "boots on the ground" to gauge how many minorities on the site, he said.  

A recent survey indicated 11 percent of the contract dollars in the Lemmon-Holton Cancer Pavilion were going to minority firms while 15 percent of the workers on the site were minorities or women, Rietscha said.

 

 

 

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