Agency continues to set benchmark for how agencies should build workforce and work with disadvantaged businesses during major projects (Photo by: chicagodefender.com)

By The Chicago Defender

The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) has launched a series of innovative new outreach programs that will help create and expand opportunities for minority-owned companies and further diversify the workforce on large CTA construction projects.

During the last two years, CTA has introduced several new programs and initiatives to promote inclusion and provide opportunities previously unavailable to contractors and workers.

“Investment in transit is about more than just building new stations and fixing deteriorated infrastructure,” said CTA President Dorval R. Carter, Jr. “It’s about making sure we invest in communities and the people who live and work there.”

The newer CTA programs and initiatives have focused on promoting opportunities for business that are certified as Disadvantaged Business Enterprises (DBEs) and Small Business Enterprises (SBEs). These designations allow small businesses to participate in CTA programs that seek to help level the playing field in transportation contracting.

Over the last several years, CTA’s Diversity Programs Department has successfully expanded CTA’s training and curriculum for DBEs. The programs seek to improve diversity, equity and inclusion in CTA contracting opportunities through outreach and events throughout the year. Perhaps the best example of these types of new programs is CTA’s educational series, which features instruction from CTA prime contractors who provide their insight in areas like procuring business opportunities, managing projects, risk management, payroll, and successfully closing out projects. Among the programs have been:

  • The Green Line Small Business Initiative (2017), a program focused on providing training and assistance to SBEs and DBEs so they could compete for work related to improvements being made at four Green Line stations — 51st Street, Halsted, Cottage Grove and Kedzie. Twenty-four businesses graduated from the Green Line series, with five companies successfully procuring contracts.
  • The Blue Line Small Business Initiative (2018), which provided instruction for SBEs and DBEs interested in working on CTA’s Your New Blue project. Eleven graduates completed the program and one is currently contracted with CTA. The other graduates remain eligible for more opportunities as they become available.
  • The RPM Small Business Educational Series (2019), which will provide information and training for businesses seeking to work on the Red Purple Modernization (RPM) Program, the largest construction project in CTA’s history.
  • “Driving Small Business” workshops: CTA offers quarterly, three-class workshops that have proven very worthwhile for smaller businesses. They are a great way to get to know CTA and how we do business.

“I believe DBE goals are a floor, not a ceiling, and that they express the diverse population we want to see in each of our projects,” Carter said. “Whether the contract is large or small, we are always reviewing contracts to identify opportunities for small businesses and when we cannot find them, we do all we can to create them.”

CTA’s efforts are the outgrowth of the successful model CTA created for the 2013 Red Line South Reconstruction Project, which created a blueprint of how local government agencies should engage the communities they serve for both job and contracting opportunities.

For the past several years, CTA has expanded the number of programs it offers to help DBEs and SBEs. They include:

  • Mid-Level Construction Program: For firms that wish to partner with potential prime contractors, CTA’s Diversity Programs team and project prime contractors host outreach events in order for prime contractors to add DBE partners to their teams.
  • Construction Management Services Program (“CMS”): CTA’s CMS Program was created to help DBEs compete for construction management opportunities. The program includes a selected pool of consultants that work with CTA frequently, guaranteeing an experienced pool of potential vendors who will compete for the work.
  • Mentor-Protégé Program: CTA asks prime contractors, who serve as mentors to potential subcontractors, to choose three categories where the prime will assist DBEs with capacity and capability.
  • One-on-One Consultations: CTA provides individual consultations for firms that are interested in doing business on a CTA project and are seeking to be certified as a DBE.

CTA has also created other standards and practices that are meant to assist DBEs and SBEs increase opportunity and participation, including:

  • Construction contracts now include a workforce component that requires bidders to disclose, up-front, how they will develop a diverse professional services workforce within their teams—including interns, partnering with schools and other innovative ways they will look to create diversity within their professional services.
  • For large design-build contracts, CTA now splits its DBE goals into two parts: one for design and one for construction. This began in 2017 and had never been done before at CTA. By splitting the DBE goal into two parts instead of only one, CTA creates more opportunity for DBEs to find work.
  • CTA regularly reviews and assesses DBE goals on each individual construction project task order in order to maximize DBE participation.
  • CTA has established a DBE Advisory Committee to provide feedback and ideas on ways to strengthen its DBE program and outreach.

CTA has created an RFP diversity scoring system for large contracts to encourage prime contractors to find new and innovative ways of reaching out to the DBE community, and also as a way to keep them accountable for their DBE commitments. This new system has led to improved contractor outreach.

CTA has also focused on creating opportunities for SBEs through a new program that allows CTA to set aside contracts for small business participation. In 2018, CTA awarded 11 small business contracts totaling over $6.2 million. We are always reviewing contracts for opportunities for small businesses and, occasionally, when we cannot find them, we create them.

For more information about DBE programs and certification, visit https://www.transitchicago.com/dbe/. To learn more about how SBEs can work with CTA, visit https://www.transitchicago.com/sbe/.

This article originally appeared in the Chicago Defender.

CTA Expands Workforce and Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Efforts

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