How do Clevelanders work together, All In, to build a more equitable Cleveland?
Nearly 100 leaders and groundbreakers of the Greater Cleveland construction community gathered Tuesday at the Intercontinental Hotel at the Cleveland Clinic to answer that question. They shared knowledge and best practices for making the regional construction industry more equitable at GCP’s 2023 Construction Utilities Buildings & Equity (CUBE) Symposium.
Attendees included Eric Gordon, CEO, Cleveland Metropolitan School District and Co-Chair of the CUBE Initiative; Pat Rios, Executive Director, Buildings & Design, Cleveland Clinic Co-and Chair of the CUBE Initiative; and representatives of many of the region’s largest companies and MBEs. Constance Haqq, NEORSD Chief Administrative Officer, introduced the conference.
Chris Nance, GCP’s Vice President of Construction & Inclusive Talent Initiatives, set the tenor for the day in his opening remarks, noting that CUBE is about both definitions of equity: fairness and ownership.
GCP President and CEO Baiju Shah cited the potential of billions of dollars of construction projects underway and planned in Cleveland over the next decade, from the Cleveland Clinic to Sherwin Williams, Bedrock and others.
This moment of transformation presents opportunity, Shah said. “We can use these projects to create inclusive opportunity for the workforce and minority firms.” Jobs can become careers.
Eric Gordon addressed the history of CUBE – and the future. “We need to invest in the next set of adults,” he said of his students.
Pat Rios spoke to the Cleveland Cinic’s commitment to diversity in construction: 51% of their current suppliers are diverse. Since 2010, they have spent $1.45 billion with diverse firms.
The Rev. Dr. Otis Moss, Jr., opened CUBE’s keynote panel to a standing ovation. His powerful speech tied the work of CUBE and the symposium to its roots in the Civil Rights Movement and the Poor People’s Campaign fight for economic justice begun by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and others.
“It is in your hands to reclaim, recommit and build a nation that will or will not survive based on these principles or the denial of these principles,” he charged the crowd.
The keynote focused on one of the most significant projects for minority contractors in Boston history, the $550 million seaport Omni Hotel, and what Clevelanders can learn from it.
Completed in 2021, the project featured 31% women and minority participation in the design; raised over $7 million in equity commitments and funds from minority investors; and recruited the largest Black-owned architecture firm in the nation, Moody Nolan, to Boston.
The panel included the team that ultimately won the bid: Richard Taylor (Chairman, Taylor Smith Group); L. Duane Jackson (Massport Board member; attending via Zoom), and Jonathan Moody (CEO, Moody Nolan).
They shared practical steps to follow their model, focusing on the significance of their DEI RFP. A Q&A session included attendees discussing the Cleveland port and lakefront development, as well as what MBEs can do to be better prepared for projects.
Taylor concluded the session by noting the great potential he sees in our region. “Cleveland is blessed to have a lot of work – $40 billion in projects. You have the work. What you need to do right now is make sure everyone at the table can eat.”
The second panel, “Diverse Contractors: A Conversation,” focused on intentionality and transparency in equity and representation.
“Equity is not just about hiring a female just because you need to check a box, or hiring a minority firm just because you need to check a box,” said Ariane Kirkpatrick, CEO of the AKA Team. “That’s not equity, that’s fraud.”
Added Sandra Madison, CEO, Robert P. Madison International, “There needs to be people who look like us all the way down, throughout the whole team, the owner’s side, the designer’s side, the whole team.”
Chelsea Moldanado, President, Maldonado Construction Services, spoke to the benefit of construction career exposure for attracting diverse talent.
“You need to show people these careers exist, that you can be a Hispanic or Black woman or man in the trades. We need to show show people there are long standing careers out there.”
The afternoon panel featured a discussion on “Building Homes in Cleveland – Activating our ecosystem to scale MBEs in residential construction.”
The focus was on sources of capital and financing, as well as the importance of inclusive neighborhoods built by people who look like the residents. William Wills, Senior Director, Cleveland Development Advisors, spoke to the importance of residential growth in the urban core in regards to affordable neighborhoods and workforce housing.
Throughout the day, students from Cleveland Heights and Max S. Hayes high schools listened and learned at the conference – and networked with potential future employers.
While there were many leaders and owners in the room, CUBE also attracted attendees who were new to the industry. Recent John Carroll University MBA graduate Tyshawn Jones took a position as a project engineer at A.M. Higley just two months ago.
“I’m here to learn more about equity in the construction field, and for networking,” he said. “It’s exciting to look around the room and see all of the diversity.
Ultimately, as keynote panelist Jonathan Moody noted, the CUBE’s discussions were not about “what we did, but what can we do going forward.
“Once your foot is in the door,” he asked, “how can those of us who got through knock the door down?”
Pictured at top, from left: The Rev. Dr. Otis Moss, Jr., with Jonathan Moody, Richard Taylor and Chris Nance. (Photos by Michael Collier)
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Greater Cleveland Partnership’s All In vision for a Great Region on a Great Lake has five key priorities: Dynamic Business, Abundant Talent, Inclusive Opportunity, Appealing Community and Business Confidence. All of our work ties back to these values. This story relates to Dynamic Businesses and Inclusive Opportunity.