Less talk, more business development called for
HIRE Minnesota — not to be confused with the HIRED program in Minnesota — hosted a community meeting at the Minneapolis Urban League in North Minneapolis On April 30. According to the email blasts and flyers, the purpose of the meeting was to address the lack of minorities hired on highway construction projects in Minnesota. HIRE MN invited the community to join them in strategizing to address many of the issues and barriers.
Founded in 2008, HIRE Minnesota’s website describes the organization as a coalition of organizations and activists working together to end employment disparities in Minnesota. The meeting was endorsed by both the Minneapolis and St. Paul Chapters of the NAACP.
Mel Reeves of HIRE MN welcomed the estimated 45 to 50 people in attendance and introduced Reverend Jerry McAfee, longtime community activist and former Minneapolis NAACP president, pastor of New Salem Baptist Church, and currently a construction general contractor.
Before McAfee could begin, an attendee who introduced himself as Marvin Smith of Bogart Construction said, “My question is this. I’ve been here, I was raised here in Minneapolis. I’ve been to these meetings over and over and over again. My question is, what’s going to be different here? We’ve been talking about the problem. Everybody has heard the problem no less than a dozen times if they have been around for the last year or two. So what’s going to be different?”
McAfee responded, “Let me say this. I’ll give you all of the information I have and you can do with it what you want to do with it. I didn’t come to waste my time… The fact of the matter is, we are in the condition that we are in because we don’t meet enough. So while we are sleeping, they are meeting. They are organizing collectively…
“This meeting was pulled together for informational purposes only,” McAfee explained later. “It was more like an intake rather than doing surgery or coming up with solutions.”
Some of the people attending the meeting were there for job opportunities, others for contract opportunities. Wendy Sullivan, president of Wenrich Construction, and her son Jerett Williams were there to hire a few people for laborer positions. Some vented their frustration with the lack of opportunities by MNDOT and others expressed their distrust for the leadership of HIRE MN.
When the floor was opened for questions and comments, Robert Woods, a contractor and builder with Brick Development who was the former president of the local Minnesota Minority Contractors (MMC), suggested that the group break out into small teams and said to McAfee, “It can’t always be you and that crew going to the meetings. We have some experts in the room right now. Carlo Lachmansingh, who is the national director of the NAMC [National Association of Minority Contractors] with an emphasis on transportation, is one.”
The MSR later spoke with Woods about the meeting. “I really believed that it was going to be a community meeting,” he said. “I thought we were going to discuss ideas on strategy, but that wasn’t the case.” After his suggestions during the meeting, Louis King accused Woods of attempting to highjack the meeting. Woods said, “I thought it was a community meeting, not a Louis King meeting.”
Woods felt that the meeting should have offered some solutions such as “creating construction businesses of color that can hire other people of color.” What is really needed, he said, is a whole economic development infrastructure in the Me
tro area. “You can’t wait for White people to develop it. It has to be built from within. In other words, you can’t have people coming from Maple Grove, Woodbury, and other places talking about leading a revolution on the North Side of Minneapolis. You must start the empowerment from the people who live in that community.”
Larry Tucker, who has been a commercial and residential appraiser for 40 years, said, “Everyone is not cut out to be a contractor… There are other businesses that we could pursue other than the construction business… We need training and we need to train some of the trainers. We definitely need to train some of the leaders. Charismatic leadership isn’t enough, it does not work in the year 2015.”
The contractors and subcontractors present shared a common concern about getting paid in a timely manner more than winning contract bids. One of those subcontractors who identified himself simply as James stood up to say, “If you want to go bankrupt, lose your home and your business, then do business with MNDOT.”
James explained his role as a subcontractor for a million-dollar contract that paid so slow that he mortgaged his house just to pay his employees. He waited over six months for payments from the principal contractors, but by the time he received his money it was too late and James had lost his home and his business.
There was no mention of a follow-up meeting.
James L. Stroud, Jr. welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.
James L. Stroud, Jr. is a contributing writer and photographer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.