Minority Business Outreach in a Virtual World

Balfour Beatty deepened trusted diverse supply chain partnerships during COVID-19 

As an essential business, construction experienced limited disruptions to jobsite operations compared to other sectors during the COVID-19 pandemic. Although most critical field activities forged ahead through enhanced safety measures, some key industry roles such as minority outreach were less easily transferrable into the virtual realm, requiring diversity leaders to reimagine networking strategies with creativity and innovation to meet project goals. 

Recognizing the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) to our own organizational and cultural health and the industry-at-large, Balfour Beatty successfully maintained vital connection points with our valued supply chain partners through an intentional and people-first approach to relationship-building. 

For some Minority-owned, Women-owned and Small Business Enterprises (collectively “M/W/SBE”) partners, the implementation of digital collaboration platforms improved access to critical project information such as pre-bid meetings. 

Balfour Beatty’s U.S. Civils business observed a dramatic uptick in virtual outreach event attendance, regularly doubling pre-COVID numbers thanks in part to the addition of out-of-state contractors and suppliers. But as Vice President and General Counsel Christine McAnney reminds, “Access doesn’t always equal opportunity.” 

Building a Trust Bridge 

That rings especially true for newer or less established M/W/SBE partners that may be navigating complex bidding and bonding requirements and seeking guidance from general contractor partners like Balfour Beatty. Although COVID-19 largely eliminated face-to-face business networking, it did not alter the time-held truth that people want to do business with organizations they like, know and trust. 

“There is a trust bridge,” describes Osvaldo “Ozzie” Gonzalez, Balfour Beatty’s diversity consultant in the Northwest. To nurture the trust that is so critical in minority business outreach, Balfour Beatty developed a best practice of following large virtual networking events with targeted and personal touchpoints such as direct phone calls or virtual lunch meetings. 

“We’re engaging people in different ways. Putting a face with the name is really important,” affirms Layli Pietri, Balfour Beatty’s minority business development director in the Mid-Atlantic. “During a time of great uncertainty, it was imperative that we reinforced Balfour Beatty’s unwavering commitment to our partners’ success.” 

The construction industry has a lengthy 18-24-month sales cycle, which meant much of the work Balfour Beatty put in place during 2020 essentially bid out prior to the pandemic. For projects that went to bid during this time, Balfour Beatty’s strategic virtual outreach efforts ensured we met or exceeded M/W/SBE participation goals. 

  • In Florida, our team hit a slam dunk on the AdventHealth Training Center project, which will be the future practice and training home for the NBA’s Orlando Magic. In addition to hosting three, well-attended virtual outreach events that yielded as many as 12 bidders per trade, the project team leveraged relationships with industry partners including the Associated Builders and Contractors Central Florida Chapter and the City of Orlando’s BLUEPRINT Employment Office to connect M/W/SBE partners and Disadvantaged Business Enterprises (DBE) to project opportunities. Due in large part to Balfour Beatty’s proactive strategies, the project awarded design and construction contracts to 33 local M/W/SBE firms, representing approximately 32% of all awarded opportunities on this marquee project—a total that well-exceeded the City’s original 24% goal.

  • In the Mid-Atlantic, a mixed-use redevelopment project achieved 40% CBE (D.C. Certified Business Enterprises) or $41 million in subcontracts, exceeding the City’s 35% goal. Additionally, the team has partnered with the owner and local neighborhood commission to create a pre-apprenticeship program for the underserved community in the local ward in hopes of placing graduates in the construction field long-term.

  • In the Southeast, the Forsyth County Courthouse project achieved 25% M/W/SBE participation, more than doubling the owner’s 10% goal. Balfour Beatty’s joint venture partner on the project, Samet Corporation, was instrumental in a collaborative effort to conduct two virtual trade partner outreach sessions. Even more impressive, the team achieved 90% local participation above and beyond the County’s 50% goal. 

  • On the $38 million Innovations Academy Modernization project for San Diego Unified School District, Balfour Beatty awarded nearly 13% or $5,000,000 in contracts to the growing San Diego Disabled Veteran Business Enterprises (DVBE) community, more than doubling the School District’s 6% project participation goal. 

  • Thanks to its targeted community outreach programs and strategies, the design-build Portland Building Reconstruction team exceeded the City of Portland’s M/W/SBE participation rate by more than 10%. In recognition of this outstanding achievement, the Daily Journal of Commerce (DJC) named the project as a Building Diversity honoree

Despite these milestones, California Minority Business Development Specialist Annie Del Rio is cautious in her predictions for the future. “The current numbers tell a comfortable story, but I don’t believe we’ve felt the full impact yet. We haven’t seen many new M/W/SBE firms starting up. We have ample talent to draw from now, but the numbers could be stagnant in the future.” 

Sharpening the Equity Lens

With the recent calls for greater corporate social responsibility following the wake of racially motivated violence, many organizations have looked inward, examined their DE&I standards and identified opportunities for improvement.

While many of Balfour Beatty’s public clients in the government, education and infrastructure markets have long established strong M/W/SBE participation goals, private clients have increasingly sharpened their focus on achieving meaningful and measurable equity goals on capital construction projects. 

As a people-first company that advocates strongly and passionately for the creation of inclusive project cultures that benefit from diverse voices, perspectives and backgrounds, Balfour Beatty has risen as a leading and respected sounding board for our clients.

“These conversations weren’t occurring to the same extent before,” affirms Pietri. “Our clients are looking to move the needle, to make a positive impact on their communities.” 

With this momentum for social change, Balfour Beatty’s diversity leaders expect the market to not only demand greater M/W/SBE participation but to disaggregate goals. More simply, this means to split large, general categories such as Emerging Business Enterprises (EBE) into more specific groups. Disaggregating data helps contractors better understand and correct any underlying disparities, prevent underutilization of specific groups and establish more robust DE&I goals.
“It all ties in holistically,” echoes Gonzalez. “When people think Balfour Beatty, we want them to think we’re the best to work with, we’re the most inclusive. We promote that at every level.” 

Just as the pandemic catapulted a paradigm shift in businesses’ operational processes, the events of 2020 exposed a pressing need to address systemic inequity. Building on our longstanding commitment to drive greater inclusivity in the construction industry, Balfour Beatty demonstrated that with resilience and resolve, leaders rise to the occasion in times of change and challenge.