Bridge to Entrepreneurship

By KB Stallworth, PhD.

It is no secret that “access” to significant opportunities in Road & Bridge contracting is challenging for many of our firms.  We also know that there is only so much that government can do to influence  participation in “competitive processes” that have very strict  Federal guidelines.  That being said,  Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan is convinced that the path to economic stability for Detroit residents and Michigan’s minority community lies in the creation of greater access opportunities that are based on  good business practices that yield benefits to the contractors, contracted labor,  and the community where major projects occur.

Trying where possible to spend money with In-State businesses rather than Out-of –State businesses, spend with local businesses , and hire when possible from the local workforce, where the project is……..creates economic value  for everyone.

The argument  with Washington regarding our request for  more road and bridge money  based on  our “Doner State” status is not good enough alone to convince the Congress to increase our federal highway appropriation. But our argument for more funds in both Washington and Lansing is substantially improved with our ability to work together to try to make sure that every project has a local revenue , local business and local employment impact.  Having the ability to quantify the commerce and employment impact associated with projects gives the Congress and the State Legislature an ROI (return on investment) on tax dollars that when coupled with the need to repair our crumbling roads and bridges…….has great power.

This is not just good public policy….it’s good business. Govenor Rick Synder is advocating strongly for increased Michigan spends, Representative Thomas Stallworth is advocating in the Michigan legislature for “local impact metrics” associated infrastructure investment, Congressman Gary Peters  continues to press for more federal transportation funds ; and Mayor Mike Duggan is relentless in his efforts to bring all of these processes together around rebuilding Detroit and improving the S.E. Michigan economy.

It will take extra effort and “teamwork” to build trust between the DBE contracting community and the major players in the Industry.  But trust is required in every business relationship, thus the fact that it does not exist hurts our collective ability to advocate for a “larger pie”; and the larger pie is what we all need in order for everyone to eat.

We are all business people. We all want to protect  and grow our businesses. We also want relationships that will foster that growth.

Every rational stakeholder should want an economically stable and growing tax base because growth translates into more business opportunity.  Thus the delivery of a high quality, cost efficient product is essential.  It is equally essential however, that every effort is made to think about how to achieve that objective while delivering the “best value” to the community through “practical” local business, minority contract and diverse employment processes.

There will be a learning curve for us all to get there. This has to be done successfully  “without set-asides” to change the “penalty conversations” and stimulate a growing interest in “solving for x” because it makes good business sense, verses because it is a “compliance demand”. Together we can get there ….if we can “clear the board” …..”have honest no-fault exchanges”…….and figure out where the  “business matches” are that make sense.

For small contractors; available cash, equipment and surety are major impediments to growth. To address those issues……the Bridges Program will provide access to “the actual” resources needed for those contractors that are able to develop  multi-year relationships …that may or may not be directly related to a project. This is important because “people do business with whom they are comfortable”.  The “Bridges” program seeks to provide an opportunity to achieve that comfort and at the same time build capacity.  Fundamental to this is understanding the various business models out there the major players use, strengthening estimating skills, and improving access to component resources that improve competitiveness.  Much of which can occur through acquisition of a “real relationship”.

Please know that this is not just some academic exercise, I know it can work because I have lived it (

The other thing we want to make sure you understand is how to use technical support organizations like MMSDC, MBCC, MMCA to help access “vertical and diverse” business opportunities as well as networks capable providing permanent or limited (project specific) joint-venture constructs.

This last point is very important. There is no reason that minority firms cannot form “real minority-majority joint ventures” or minority-minority joint ventures……or seek equity investment from the minority community to grow their businesses or acquire others.  All of these options will be afforded via the “Bridges Programs,”  so RSVP today !   Mayor Duggan has begun to pull together public and private sector organizations that are equally determined to improve local contracting and employment opportunities in a manner that can be replicated because it makes good business sense…..and because it is a smart move that fosters economic progress.

No matter where you are in the contacting spectrum, you cannot afford to miss this meeting at the Detroit St. Regis.  RSVP today ! is one of The Partnership’s programs, designed as a “one-stop shop” for information about apprenticeships, apprenticeship readiness programs and business opportunities in the transportation sector. The name represents our goal to demystify the apprenticeship process by helping more people find their way into the apprenticeship pipeline, as well as broadening awareness of business opportunities with Michigan Department of Transportation.