Well, we’ve found our starting point. After several dialogues with Dee Williams, and a bit of consideration about what to do to help the Asheville community, we are jumping in to begin a mentorship training program for African-American contractors. It seems an obvious place for Sphere to assert the value of mentorship as it relates to increased economic mobility.
We will begin the training program in the New Year by recruiting contractors who desire to become DBE-certified with the NC DOT. The certification is a rigorous process involving a plenitude of paperwork along with a “pre-qualification” process, where representatives from NC DOT in Raleigh travel to Asheville to review candidates’ qualifications to perform the work well. DBE-certification is viewed as a serious undertaking, and anyone with the qualification enjoys great esteem from the community.
The City of Asheville has been aware of the value of this certification; for many years it has hosted a number of “introductory” sessions to entice contractors. But it has failed to convert. We hope to find out why, as we embark on meetings next week with our first 4 contractors.
Dee will serve as our lead mentor for this project. As noted in the previous post, she is a DBE-certified contractor with NC DOT, and, while retired, is a storehouse of knowledge about the business. In fact, we recently found out that Dee was named Minority Construction Firm of the Year in Asheville in 2005, and was responsible for negotiating the first contract for an African-American owned firm from the City of Asheville. She was also the first African-American professional to successfully package/obtain funding for black firms in WNC for SBA Guarantee and SBA Direct Loans.
Since building successful contracting businesses requires much more than certification, Dee’s wide range of experience will most certainly come in handy. We are already in discussion on creating a program that will include mentorship in bidding and contracting as well as management. Our hope is to help these small, independent entrepreneurs grow into strong, mid-sized firms that can apprentice and employ members of the community at a living wage – an essential component for overcoming poverty.
Thankfully, there are others in the Asheville community, such as the organization Just Economics, who are helping work toward the reality of sustainable incomes for all. We are also progressing with offering courses sometime in the New Year at The Fortune Building in West Asheville. We are fortunate to have a great space to hold courses, and begin the process of bringing people together to create a new system of education.