A vibrant, diverse business community contributes to a region’s innovation and economic performance. Infrastructure projects offer opportunities for diverse businesses to endure long after the completion of a project. Actively seeking out and partnering with qualified small, minority- and women-owned businesses helps fuel sustainable economic growth, resulting in successful project delivery and stronger, more prosperous communities.
Strategic management of infrastructure projects can provide the long-term investment needed to help strengthen and diversify business communities. The level of investment needed in U.S. water and wastewater systems is estimated to be $400-$600 billion, according to the Associated General Contractors of America. As cities tackle these challenges, large infrastructure projects provide the capital investment needed to build diverse businesses and the longevity needed to make those businesses successful for years to come. Providing opportunity within a collaborative-delivery structure such as design-build can create a vehicle to engage businesses in a more deliberate and profound way.
In Wichita, Kansas, the city’s investment in its water and wastewater infrastructure over the next decade will reach almost $1 billion. In 2024, the $500 million Northwest Wichita Water Facility will reach completion, supplying the city’s 550,000 rate payers with up to 120 million gallons of clean water each day. With a small yet diverse business community, building capacity through capital investment projects is imperative. Recognizing the opportunity and acting on it is the first step in the process. “This historic investment in Wichita’s infrastructure will leave a legacy that goes beyond just water quality. This project will also contribute directly to creating an even more vibrant, diverse, and inclusive business community,” said Vice Mayor Brandon Johnson.
A healthy community provides opportunity not just for engineering and construction firms but for all types of emerging businesses. Christina Long of CML Collective is leading the way, helping to build capacity throughout the Wichita community. Last October, Christina led Wichita’s Entrepreneurship & Innovation Series, which was a multi-part educational forum. Hosted by Dr. Fred McKinney of Quinnipiac University, the series focused on developing local disadvantaged businesses and helping area purchasing representatives identify potential business partners. Due to COVID-19, the series was conducted virtually, yet still provided broad dialogue and educational guidance engaging Wichita business owners. “Connecting businesses with information to help strengthen approaches and outcomes was a critical component of the Wichita Entrepreneurship and Innovation Series. The feedback from participants demonstrated how valuable the experience was and we look forward to the series returning to Wichita to reach even more diverse business owners,” shared Christina Long.
As the community builds a broader base of businesses, collaborative-delivery opportunities like design-build provide more flexibility in contracting structure, allowing for more creativity in defining bid packages and opportunities. Design-build also allows for more time to develop relationships through the transition from design to construction. Procurement activities start well before design is complete, giving procurement teams time to actively encourage diverse contractors to participate in the process. Supplementing Christina’s work, Kansas Business Services, a minority-owned management consulting firm led by Darrius and Donna Wright, is facilitating diverse business outreach and development. Their team seeks businesses that can contribute to the infrastructure build and ensures those businesses take advantage of business certification processes, providing even more opportunity for growth.
Current forecasts indicate nearly half of the small diverse businesses interested in working on the Northwest Wichita Water Facility project are not certified within the City’s Emerging & Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Program. Collecting and understanding this data helps the City of Wichita understand the business landscape and the needs within the market. According to Darrius Wright, “The Wichita Water Partners project provides an opportunity for small diverse businesses to showcase capacity and capability. Engagement in this project can also assist in certification of local, state, and national certification programs.”
Building business enterprise capacity is a long process, but with determination, dedication, and the right delivery strategy, communities will continue to grow stronger. Wichita’s new Northwest Water Facility completes a decade-long effort to build resilience and diversify the city’s water supply, protecting the city from changing weather patterns and providing clean, fresh water for future generations. Alberici and Burns & McDonnell are the joint venture partners delivering this important project.