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Stadium moves some WMBEs into the big leagues
By BART ARENSON
At Safeco Field, it will be 405 feet to dead center, take 20 minutes to open or close the retractable roof, and groundskeepers will turn on sprinklers to water real grass.
Fans cannot escape these easily observed and heavily promoted facts. But for many, the significant contribution of minority and women-owned business enterprises to the stadium's construction may go unnoticed.
Yet for these firms the work is doubly significant: Besides the hefty revenues, WMBEs have garnered invaluable experience and visibility in the marketplace, and a big boost to their continued success.
"We really wanted to look at individual businesses and what the work meant to their growth," said Melvin Smith, Public Facilities District MWBE administrator. Smith says the program's motto was "certified contractors doing real work to enhance their business development."
Not only has the program met or exceeded original goals for MWBE participation, but also Smith says the program has helped firms take the next step up in the evolution of a business. "Making payroll, paying taxes, sending people down to the union hall and organizing the work. We have had companies make significant strides in business growth."
"It's been great exposure for my business," said Thibou. "Since we completed the job I've been getting many FAX requests to bid on jobs in the Seattle area."
A native of the St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands, Thibou moved to the United States 21 years ago. He got his start in the industry working for Dawson Construction in Bellingham, and has been in business and MBE certified for 10 years.
For Regina Mbure, president of Top Quality Security, the Safeco Field opportunity was the largest security contract her firm ever bid on. "When we heard we were the winners of the contract it was very exciting, really beyond belief. We had had a couple of other security contracts for the federal government, but this was a huge boost to our company."
"Our job was to observe, report and handle any situation on our own, although we weren't allowed armed guards," said Mbure. "Our manager at the site, Sabian Martinez, did an excellent job in that regard."
Mbure is hopeful that after the facility is turned over to the Mariners, Top Quality's performance on the job may lead to future security work for the team. "For the most part, the Mariners do their own in-house security. They do sub out some work, but you need experience in crowd control."
"We were invited to bid, but we chose not to because of the crowd management experience requirement," Mbure said. "However, we are interested as possibly working as a sub to provide some labor."
Nevertheless, Mbure says the work was a tremendous boost to the company's resume. "Given the number of people who entered the site on a daily basis literally thousands we are proud that in over 22 months there were very few incidents."
Leighton Russell, vice president for Tabor Electric, the company that provided, installed and maintained temporary power for construction, says the contract helped his firm make connections. "It helped us build relationships with other contractors on the job and also exposed us to contractors who might not otherwise have had an opportunity to know us."
"We were there from the very beginning and it's been a real learning experience," said Russell. "For some of our employees, it's been the largest project they've ever worked on and definitely the most memorable."
T-N-T Construction is concrete finisher for the Safeco Field parking garage, working as a subcontractor to Hoffman Construction. "Our corporation has really learned a lot from working with Hoffman," said Tim Shaw, founder of T-N-T.
"The really hard part as a small, newer company is getting recognized by the banking industry. They really look away from subcontractors," said Shaw.
"That's where Hoffman Construction really helped us out, they gave us the opportunity to grow and helped us locate financing to cover payroll and equipment."
For MWBE Administrator Smith it's been gratifying to see the process work. "We've had companies make evolutionary changes. It was not just a matter of seeing some companies come down to the stadium site and get some work, as nice as that is," said Smith. "It's really all about business development."
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