Publicly funded projects, including most major airport infrastructure improvements, typically include provisions for significant representation from disadvantaged, minority-owned and women-owned businesses. The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Program (DBE) aims to increase the participation of minority and women-owned businesses in state and local airport projects, funded by the Department through the Federal Aviation Administration.
The overarching objectives of the DBE program are to (1) ‘level the playing field’ by providing small businesses, owned and controlled by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals, a fair opportunity to compete for federally funded transportation contracts and (2) through participating in large technically complex projects to build capacity and capabilities to enable the firm to achieve sustainable growth.
Beyond simply adhering to those mandates, large infrastructure firms are uniquely qualified to help develop disadvantaged business enterprises while positioning them for future success. With a corporate commitment to diversity, providing mentoring and training, as well as sharing best practices, these firms are maximizing opportunities through DBE Programs. Firms that would qualify under a federal, state, or local diversity program can include Airport Concession Disadvantaged Business Enterprise, Disadvantaged Business Enterprise, Disabled Veteran Business Enterprise, Local Business Enterprise, Minority Business Enterprise, Small Business Enterprise, Underutilized Disadvantaged Business Enterprise, and Women Business Enterprise, all of which are included in reference to DBE programs.
According to the Small Business Association and U.S Census, 120 million employees are working for 28 million small businesses in the U.S. Small business accounts for more than 50 percent of the working population. As the backbone of America’s economy, DBE programs drive economic growth.
Small and disadvantaged businesses aren’t the only beneficiaries when larger infrastructure firms partner with them to build their portfolios and share best practices. A wide range of transportation agencies and regions benefit from greater competition and the quality of work derived from a larger, more diverse workforce.
As prime contractors compete for large airport contracts, they need to demonstrate that they have assembled a strong, talented and diversified project team. Partnering with DBE and other small firms to deliver quality work and client services is critical for a successful project. DBE partners are frequently tapped for their unique skill sets. They provide value from the pursuit phase through execution of the work and are highly qualified in their core fields.
Helping DBEs overcome challenges
Small businesses are often reluctant to pursue the contracts due to a number of contractual challenges and risks that on the surface may seem too daunting to overcome. Among these barriers include:
- Public Agency DBE certification, prequalification, procurement and contracting processes can be confusing and administratively difficult.
- The financial audits required to establish and validate billing rates and overhead are often beyond standard practice for DBE firms.
- Lack of the full array of experience, resources or personnel to compete for the work drive attempts to sub-contract or to stay on the sidelines.
- Securing bonding and insurance coverage to the limits required by contract can be excessive and exceed the firm’s financial ability to pursue, win, fund and perform the work.
HNTB believes that established infrastructure firms have a business imperative to partner with smaller companies, by providing project opportunities, business mentorship and insight into industry processes. Building strong, lasting partner relationships with talented colleagues strengthens the entire infrastructure community and benefits project owners. Delivering complex airport programs requires diversity, innovative thinking and close collaboration among stakeholders, including primes, DBE and small business partner firms and clients.
The Partners Program
As a leader in addressing transportation industry challenges, HNTB created the Partners Program, a national effort to assist in the development of DBE/WBE/SBE firms. It encompasses a structured, 12-month program that helps DBEs and small businesses:
- Better understand the DBE certification and prequalification processes.
- Recruit effectively to acquire talent that helps them demonstrate expertise and gain prequalification.
- Enhance their technical expertise and business acumen.
- Understand and navigate the procurement process.
- Expand their relationship networks through introductions and networking.
- Develop contract and revenue opportunities.
- Discover funding options as well as gain access to potential bonding and insurance resources.
The firm is committed to partnering with and mentoring DBEs and has provided business opportunities for dozens of small businesses, local schools and communities since 2009. Guiding and mentoring small businesses not only makes them aware of partnering opportunities across the region, but also better prepares them to play a meaningful role on future contracts.
In addition to the successful Partners Program, a wide range of educational, industry and mentoring programs are being implemented to support and assist DBEs and small business partners. These programs will be highlighted next week in Part 2 of Diversity in Action – Partnerships for Success.
Art Hadnett is president of HNTB Corporation’s West Division. Based at the firm’s Los Angeles headquarters, he is responsible for leading the operations of the nine-state West Division, including eleven offices and nearly 600 employees, overseeing vital and complex infrastructure programs in rail/transit, tolling and aviation. He possesses more than 30 years of comprehensive leadership experience on infrastructure and transportation gained from high-profile megaprojects.