An Alliance for Change Forms

By on April 30, 2015

by Tom Finan, Executive Director, Construction Forum STL

At the same time Tuesday that the City of St. Louis was presenting the results of its minority participation disparity study, a group was meeting in a conference room at Bartolino’s restaurant on Hampton and was quietly establishing a course of action that might address some of those issues.

It was the second meeting of the group, which has come to be known as the “Economic Inclusion Alliance.” The group was organized by Scott Wilson, CEO of S.M. Wilson, and Eddie Hasan, longtime activist in the African American community and former head of MOKAN. At a sometimes raucous meeting in late February the group heard from Dr. Jason Purnell of Washington University, who presented the case for change.

“The meeting was moderated again by Rebeccah Bennett, principal of Emerging Wisdom, a coaching and facilitation practice, and founder of the InPower Institute. Many of the players in the room were attendees at the first meeting – Hassan, Wilson, Len Toenjes, president of AGC of Missouri; Ron Unterreiner, founder of PEOPLE; John Gaal, director of training and workforce development for the Carpenters District Council; Bob Fritz, vice president at Clayco and project head on the ACW Alliance on the BJC Kingshighway Campus Renewal; and African American activist Anthony Shahid.

But there were also some new faces in the room, notably Chris Reichert, CEO of Stifel Bank and Trust who heads the Contractor Loan Fund (CLF) and Dennis Lower, president and CEO of Cortex. The CLF has met its additional capitalization goal, Reichert said, and is finalizing expectations with its stakeholders of the program’s rollout.

Program facilitator Bennett said that the first meeting had pointed for the need to, “establish a systems framework and infrastructure for economic inclusion that advances fair and equitable workforce development, business development, and industry accountability.”

There was discussion of addressing individual learning deficits to create opportunities for persons wanting to enter the trades. The group spent significant time discussing the hostile environment that minority workers frequently encounter in the field and ways that it might be changed. Fritz noted that while Clayco has made a cultural commitment to inclusion, lack of industry-wide commitment can make that path difficult.

Finally Reichert suggested that there was a need to focus on a process for inclusion for contractors, owners, and unions. He said that in his experience, a “two-page bullet point” outline “setting up the procedures and the monitoring system was needed.”

Lower pointed out that the group meeting was called an alliance, which he said is defined as, “an alignment of people who hold certain values. If that becomes a nucleus, we can create a positive face for change,” he said.

An ad hoc committee was formed to draft the bullet point process suggested by Reichert. Lower said that as companies signed on to support those principles it would build momentum. Reichert said that the companies supporting the CLF would be a logical place to start on  that effort.

About Tom Finan