WHEDA program opens door for minority firms to get additional construction work

A Wisconsin Housing & Economic Development Authority (WHEDA) pilot program aimed at helping minority-owned construction firms win jobs is delivering the results and expanded opportunities that the program designers had hoped for.

Three minority contractors hired by Gorman & Company as part of the WHEDA business participation plan to work on the $17.2 million, 135-unit Majestic Building apartment complex on West Wisconsin Avenue in downtown Milwaukee, have been selected to complete other jobs for the housing developer that did not require minority quotas.

“Because of this program we came across contractors we may not have worked with in the past,” said Gary Gorman, president of Gorman & Company. “This program is creating the kind of ongoing business relationships that last.”

Based on the quality of work that the minority-owned firms did for Gorman & Company, Gary Gorman said his project managers have included and will continue to include the minority firms on bids that don’t mandate minority-firm participation, including new housing developments in Racine, Kenosha and Milwaukee.

“The pilot program is a success because it introduced a developer with a group of contractors who otherwise might not have crossed paths,” said Diane Chamness, a Milwaukee consultant, who helped created the pilot program.

WHEDA executive director Antonio Riley came up with the idea to have Gorman & Company work with minority firms even though the publicly financed Majestic project was not obligated to use minority firms. Gorman has constructed more than a dozen WHEDA-funded, affordable-housing complexes in the last 20 years and was happy to volunteer to become part of the test program, said Gary Gorman.

“Some people considered these programs as handouts, but they’re not because minority firms still have to compete for the business,” Riley said. “This program is designed to help them make contacts and develop skills to grow their small business.”

New Plan
Riley hired Chamness to devise the minority-participation plan. She had created similar plans for the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District and Milwaukee Public Schools in recent years.

The MMSD construction management training program for women and minorities has placed 118 individuals in construction jobs in the last four years, Chamness said.

“Our goal is to increase the diversity in the construction industry by building capacity in the construction firms,” she said.

Judy Sullivan, Gorman & Company’s project manager on the Majestic Building (development), said 25 percent of the development was handled by minority contractors and 5 percent of the work was contracted to women-owned firms.

Gorman & Company has completed several apartment complexes in the Milwaukee area that include both affordable housing and market-rate apartments. The developer used city tax-exempt bonds to help finance the Knitting Factory was 21 percent Sullivan said.

The program opened the door for the firms, some of which had tried to be a subcontractor to Gorman on previous development.

“This was our opportunity to show them what we could do,” said Brian Holmes, president of B&D, and who had unsuccessfully submitted bids to Gorman & Company in the past.

B&D, and eight-year-old contraction firm that specializes in installing windows and doors, has been hired by Gorman to handle projects in Racine and Kenosha that did not require minority participation.

“The other jobs never would have materialized without the pilot program where we could demonstrate that we are a to-notch professional contractor,” said Holmes, who is a member of Bad River Band of the Wisconsin Ojibwe tribe.

Holmes is confident that when Gorman begins two other large Milwaukee-area housing projects over the next several months B&D will be awarded contracts.

Gorman is involved in a $15 million City on the Hill project that is converting the former Sinai Samaritan Hospital at North 27th Street and West Kilbourn Avenue into 125 apartments. Gorman is also renovation a former London Square building at North 23rd Street and Walnut Street into a $12.3 million, 115-unit apartment complex.