Black Contractors and Veterans: Joining Forces to Build Enterprises and Rebuild Communities
The talk about stimulus and job creation sounds inspiring inside the Beltway and many of the government programs put in place to “Get America Moving Again” have the best intentions, except for Black contractors, especially Black veteran contractors who are still not benefitting from these opportunities.
“What we were hearing gave us hope that this time we would be included in a major way,” said veteran and entrepreneur Stephen Bailey, President & CEO, Bailey Contracting Services, LLC. “We have the expertise, but we still do not have the connections within the public sector to get a real foothold on these projects and, in some states, legislation was enacted that put up additional road blocks”
Case in point, in 1996 when voters in California approved Proposition 209 it created a controversial ban on minority preferences thus allowing the state to shield contracting data, particularly ethnic and gender data which placed additional obstacles in front of Black contractors and others trying to increase representation in building roads.
“That is just the tip of the iceberg regarding the problems that Black contractors face and many who are veterans, don’t even include that classification because they have not gained any business from it,” added Bailey. “We knew we needed to do something to change that dynamic. Thus, VEDI was formed to generate real contracting opportunities for veterans across all classifications.”
VEDI stands for Veterans Entrepreneurial Development Initiatives and it was formed to address the missing niche opportunity for retired and returning veterans – entrepreneurship.
“When you look at the billions of dollars spent on road projects in the country and the dismal numbers for Black contractors, bear in mind that veterans are barely included even in those numbers.”
According to the San Bernadino Associated Governments (SANBAG), the Underutilized/Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (UDBE) goal for California’s l-215 construction project, which was valued at $450 million, was just under two percent.
Of that total, only $775,000 went to UDBE contractors. Considering that nearby Los Angeles/Long Beach Counties combined has the largest number of minority businesses in the country. According to an article posted on BlackVoiceNews.com highlighting Black contractors being shut out of the I-215 project: “The National Black Chamber of Commerce, Conference of Black Mayors and the National Black Caucus of State Legislators, charge the Obama administration isn’t enforcing key portions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. They say as a result, Black contractors in states across the country are being shut out of federal highway construction work.”
“VEDI has been making inroads in a number of states including Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, California and Georgia to increase access and opportunities for veterans and advocating in state houses for legislation that supports the federal mandates under programs such as ARRA,” notes Bailey, who is also a Managing Partner, Top Flight LLC, which is the Project Development Liaison for VEDI. “We have been instrumental in bringing project partners together to help veteran contractors to grow their businesses and open doors for others. Our goal is for all diverse contractors, Blacks, veterans and others to have long term work projects and relationships, while putting veterans and people from those communities to work”
Most recently, VEDI has been in discussions with Black contractors based in North Carolina to assist in making sure that they are in the forefront of the repair and rebuild opportunities for that storm damaged area, especially on the campus of HBCU Shaw University.
“Before VEDI, we would not have a platform to build a team and mobilize resources to be involved,” stated Bailey. “Now, as a Black contractor and a veteran, I know that there is a growing network that gives me the opportunity to help other service men and women who often return home and are forgotten to succeed.”