With First Snow, Change Falls on St. Louis

By on January 20, 2016

by Tom Finan
Executive Director
Construction Forum STL

Early Tuesday evening, as their fellow St. Louisans scurried to Schnucks for milk, bread, and eggs, or inched homeward,  over 200 intrepid souls trekked to the Sheet Metal Workers Hall through the first snowfall of the season. A diverse crowd filled the hall to meet, greet, and help change the face of construction here.

The event was a networking reception, hosted jointly by PEOPLE and Construction Forum STL. The weather put a dent in the total of 370 people registered for the event, but those attending made up the difference in engagement and enthusiasm. Ramona Tumblin-Rucker,  BJC healthcare’s project manager for the Campus Renewal Project, said that it had taken her an hour to drive from BJC’s Kingshighway Campus to the Sheet Metal Hall at Jefferson and Chouteau.

Conversations at the PEOPLE event were far more forward-looking and positive than the public football-focused discussions of the region’s future the in last couple of weeks. Two weeks ago someone emailed me to ask if I would rebut Mr. Kroenke’s cranky comments regarding St. Louis. I demurred. Last Friday, before the Business Journal’s  annual “State of St. Louis” program,  John Nations of Bi-State Development, who was our  Forum speaker in December, talked with me about the stadium issue. We agreed that the same amount of energy and cash that was expended on and pledged for the stadium project — if put into career training, advanced manufacturing, and transportation — could make a far greater impact than eight home games a year.


Wednesday morning, NPR’s veteran sports commentator Frank DeFord, in an open letter to St. Louisans, echoed my late Mom’s gentle refrain whenever we would whine about some past loss or perceived slight. Mom would say, “Get over it.”

DeFord said:  “You wanna know something really bizarre? What large American city has suffered the most in the past few decades? All together now: Detroit. No argument. Yet the Motor City is the only old-line metropolis never to have lost one of its teams to another city, in any of the four big-time sports. The Tigers, Lions, Red Wings and Pistons are there today as sure as they were when what was good for General Motors was good for the country. Would you rather have a basketball team or would you rather be Detroit?

“See, losing or gaining a franchise really doesn’t have a thing to do, substantively, with your city. It only has to do with an owner trying to make more money for his own self.”

2016 — “The Year for Success”

At the reception, PEOPLE Founder Ron Unterreiner said that the 2016 theme for his “non-member, non-organization” is “success”. To emphasize that point, he called on Tommy Davis, Jr., president of TD4, an MBE electrical contracting firm that has been very successful by many metrics, to speak of Davis’ personal journey.

howardDavis told MBE/WBE contractors in the room that success is an elusive target and that a contractor is only as good as their last project and their ability to weather setbacks. He said he had recently told the owner of a fledgling MBE firm that if inclusion was his definition of success he would fail. Only by delivering once on the job and being measured by their performance can M/WBE contractors be successful, Davis said.

Chris Reichert, CEO of Stifel Bank and Trust and chairman of the Contractor Loan Fund, said that the fund is making a difference in making capital available to minority contractors. To date the fund made loans totaling about $2.5 million of its initial $10 million capitalization.

Unterreiner, who formed PEOPLE two years ago to bring minority contractors, suppliers, and designers together with their counterparts in the majority community and with construction buyers, said that this was by far the largest event the organization had held. PEOPLE and Unterreiner have received recognition from the St. Louis Council of Construction Consumers, MOKAN, and Construction Forum STL for his efforts.

Joe Blanner, president of Construction Forum STL, thanked architecture firm Verve Design Studio (recently rebranded from RKAI) for its role as signature event sponsor. Support was also provided by S.M. Wilson, Schlafly Brewing, and Sheetmetal Workers Local 36, which donated the use of the hall for the event.

“People Do Business  With People They Know”

Blanner asked the audience to engage in an exercise. First, he asked for a show of hands from everyone present present who had exchanged 10 business cards with others in the room. He repeated the exercise for five exchanges. “That’s the real reason we’re here — to build relationships,” Blanner said. “People want to do business with people they know.”

A number of the members of Construction Forum STL’s recently formed Young Leaders Group attended the reception. One member, Christie Brinkman, business development director at Horner & Shifrin, told Dave Zimmerman, president of Sheet Metal Workers Local 36, about the enthusiasm her group members have for fostering positive change in the industry and the region. The Young Leaders are discussing programs such as mentoring primary and secondary students and using video and social media to recruit young people into the industry.

A Time for Change

When the two-hour event ended at 6 p.m. the crowd wanted to linger. Joe Blanner said he didn’t think it had anything to do with the weather. Rather, he felt, it had to do with the beginnings of change in our  industry and in our region.

In his recent  State of the Union address, President Obama called this a time of change. He referenced the change to a technology-based economy and the need to narrow economic disparities — issues we hear of frequently here.

“…America has been through big changes before,”  President Obama said, “wars and depression, the influx of new immigrants, workers fighting for a fair deal, movements to expand civil rights. Each time, there have been those who told us to fear the future; who claimed we could slam the brakes on change; who promised to restore past glory if we just got some group or idea that was threatening America under control.

“And each time, we overcame those fears. We did not, in the words of Lincoln, adhere to the “dogmas of the quiet past.” Instead we thought anew, and acted anew. We made change work for us, always extending America’s promise outward, to the next frontier, to more people. And because we did — because we saw opportunity where others saw only peril — we emerged stronger and better than before.”

Not as a big thing, like a stadium — but rather like many small snowflakes — change fell quietly on a corner of St. Louis Tuesday night.



About Tom Finan