Director Jack Thomas Jr. Aims to Make STL County Diversity ‘Real’

By on November 1, 2018

by Tom Finan, Executive Director, Construction Forum STL

“My philosophy is, “Real work for real companies,” stated Jack Thomas Jr., who became St. Louis County’s first-ever chief diversity officer this past July. “We’re going to have real opportunities”. That was the message he delivered during an interview in the Construction Forum STL offices Thursday.

Thomas’ position was legislated into existence this past April, as part the County’s first MBE procurement inclusion requirements. But Thomas is not at all new to the theory, reality, politics and shenanigans of construction inclusion regulations.

He served almost 30 years with the City of St. Louis — the last 10 as assistant airport director charged with community and DBE programs. While he was at Lambert, Thomas was credited with expanding the pool of qualified DBE contractors and reducing the time required to certify MBE contractors.

He then  left town for 10 years, serving in a similar position at the Jackson, MS Municipal Airport Authority. When the new County position opened up he returned to St. Louis and to St. Louis County government, where he began his career as a community development specialist before joining City government.

While in Jackson, he stayed in touch with construction diversity activity in his home base. He cited the ConstructForSTLorg newsletter as a resource on which he relied for information.

Private Sector Models

Thomas holds private sector players such BJC and Washington University in high esteem for their continuing commitment to growing minority contracting capacity.  He also cited the successes of the Regional Union Construction Center, a not-for-profit mentoring and support center for MBE firms; PEOPLE of St. Louis, a networking organization that connects M/WBE- and majority-owned firms; and the St. Louis Council of Construction Consumers. He has taken all of those efforts into consideration in forming his approach to the County’s procurement inclusion program.

The revised purchasing code ordinance, which was based on the County disparity study,  St. Louis County requires 24 percent MBE and 9.5 percent WBE for construction, and 16 percent MBE and 15 percent WBE for architecture and engineering projects.The ordinance also applies a five percent discount to bids from eligible minority- or women-owned businesses.

Thomas noted the changes that have taken place within various contractor associations during his absence. He is working to re-establish his connection to those organizations and to build new relationships. Thomas expects nothing less in terms of relationship building on part of majority-owned contractors who want to work for the County.

‘When You Want to Do Business…”

He has a strong understanding that construction is a relationship-based business. But Thomas wants bidding contractors to understand that the bar is being raised for what constitutes a “good faith” effort. “When you want to do business, you figure out a way to establish a relationship and make it happen.” he said.

Saying, “(Majority-owned-contractor) Joe has done my plumbing for 10 years,” will no longer cut it in his viewpoint. Bill may be a valued supplier, but more effort will be required to find W/MBE bidders,  Thomas stated.

It is Thomas’  intention for his department  to work alongside “responsible” contractors who adhere to practices such as prompt pay. “We need to do the best we can to make clear what is expected,” he said. He intends to follow President Ronald Reagan’s maxim of, “Trust, but verify.”

He feels that most contractors — both majority and W/MBEs — just want to be treated fairly and are doing their best to meet expectations. Bad actors, Thomas said, will be weeded out by their own actions (slow pay, unfair treatment, lack of evaluations of MBEs). Past performance will be taken into consideration when they bid additional work. Some contractors, he said, spend a lot of time documenting that they made a good faith effort that could have been better used in cultivating W/MBE relationships.

Thomas indicated that County Supervisor Steve Stenger has agreed to Thomas request that County staff involved in purchasing have W/MBE goals embedded in their personnel evaluations.

STL County department heads are on board with the new procurement policies, according to Thomas.  “We have a good crew of people in County government,”  he said.


About Tom Finan