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Program’s goal? Give smaller contractors a solid foundation

During the best of times, starting a new construction company is rife with challenges. In addition to the need for a business plan, financing and other requirements any new business must meet, start-up and/or minority contractors must quickly gain a knowledge of bonding and insurance, project management and various other components unique to the construction industry. Throw in the current economic woes, and these challenges can quickly become obstacles.

If this were not enough, new and minority contractors on the Coast must operate in the post-Hurricane Katrina environment. For many prospective Coast contractors, this can put an end to their entrepreneurial dreams and hopes.

However, there is good news. It is the Model Contractor Development Program, designed specifically to assist start-up construction companies in laying a solid foundation for success. The program was offered last year on the Coast and other locales in Mississippi, and, after seeing surprisingly strong response and success, is returning again this month to Gulfport.

Real-world experience

“With billions of dollars in contracting opportunities flowing into the state as a result of continuing disaster recovery efforts and new economic development projects, it is imperative that innovative strategies are used to insure minority and small businesses fully participate in these opportunities,” said Richard Speights, director of the Mississippi Development Authority’s (MDA’s) Minority and Small Business Development Division.

To this end, the MDA, along with Gulfport-based Roy Anderson Corp (RAC), the Surety & Fidelity Association of America (the program’s developer) and the South Mississippi Contract Procurement Center (SMCPC), will present the Model Contractor Development Program beginning in October. The Model Contractor Development Program is designed to teach small construction contractors the good business practices they need to improve their company’s operations, increase their bonding capacity and help them take advantage of the ongoing construction boom in Mississippi.

The program is being offered free of charge and will include nine sessions. Each session will be held at RAC’s corporate office from 5:30 p.m. until 7:30 p.m. each Tuesday beginning October 21 and ending December 16.

Each session tackles a different issue faced by new contractors. This year, sessions will focus on business planning and management, accounting and financial management, estimating and bidding, bonding and insurance, banking and financing, project management and field operations and claims and dispute resolution. The final session is dedicated to success stories — and failures — and graduation.

The program has two requirements — participating companies must be enrolled in the Mississippi Contract Procurement Network system, and a representative of each contractor must attend at least seven of the nine sessions.

Marcia McDowell, director of the SMCPC, said she was concerned last year that the meeting requirement might hurt attendance. However, the program’s structure ended up being a plus.

“I was worried that these small contractors couldn’t afford to have someone at each meeting,” she said. “But the companies are not required to have the same individual at every session. So, they can send different people. And they can match people’s jobs with the sessions. For instance, they can send a supervisor to the session on project management and field operations, and send an office employee for the session on accounting.”

McDowell said she would have been happy graduating 15 or 20 contractors last year. Instead, 35 companies successfully completed the program. She said the phones have lit up with companies interested in the program this year, and is anticipating more graduates this time around.

McDowell added that the program’s effectiveness is enhanced by RAC’s participation. She said it gives attendees a real-world example and an inside look at what it takes to become a large, successful contractor.

Remembering and giving back

RAC is not only opening its facility to the program’s participants, it is supplying instructors, too, and not just any workers, either. It will provide six instructors, two of whom are vice presidents, one who is vice president and CFO, as well as a director and a manager. And the firm will provide several other workers as support staff.

RAC is one of the largest Mississippi-based contractors, and has been around for more than a half-century. What does it know about small start-up contractors, and why should it care about the “little guys?”

“We became involved last year when we were approached by Richard Speights…,” said RAC vice president of human resources Debbie Bermond. “Richard met with (president/CEO) Roy Anderson III, (executive vice president and program instructor) Steve Bryant and myself to tell us of this new program they were trying to provide for small business contractors. We were very pleased to offer our assistance.

“Roy Anderson Corp was established in 1955, and has always maintained our corporate office in Gulfport. This company was built by a man (Roy Anderson Jr.) and his family with a dream and a single pickup truck. Every small business deserves a chance to succeed. If by helping in this program plays even a small part in their future success, then the goal has been met.

“The more successful business we have on the Coast, the more successful the Coast will be.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at wally.northway@msbusiness.com.

About Wally Northway

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