ACT graduates shed tears of joy, gratitude
“I remember when I met you…even then you were trying to figure out what you and Penn State could do to help MBE/WBE contractors who…had been denied contracting opportunities or who had not been paid for their work by prime contractors in state contracting. The contrast between that day and last evening was huge…with everyone happy and with hope they had all but lost before.”
Those are the words of Donna Arthur, one of the graduates of the Accelerated Contractor Training (ACT), which was sponsored by Penn State, Skanska and the African American Chamber of Commerce of Central PA. ACT is an offshoot of Penn State’s Office Physical Plant’s Minority, Women and Veteran’s in Business Enterprise Program (MBE/WBE).
Arthur’s words were directed to Vernon Davis, a contractor liaison in the Office of Physical Plant who also heads up the MBE/WBE program. The program is part of Penn State’s commitment to fostering and promoting diversity in all it does. This program serves to increase the opportunities for and participation of minority-, women- and veteran-owned businesses in relation to construction at Penn State by providing outreach, training and educational programs.
One of the many positives of this program is the ability to build a link between the MBE/WBE community, especially within the state, and the University. “We want to be a University that services the commonwealth,” said Davis. “There are many companies I have met with that given the opportunity to grow, they would be just as viable as any other company.”
Davis wears a couple of hats in OPP. In addition to making sure policies in a contract are carried out, he also serves as a connector between contractors. “Many of them don’t know the minority, women and veteran business community. Construction is built on relationships and you get used to working with certain people. I make sure those doors are open to give these businesses an opportunity. Then once they get an opportunity, it’s important to make sure they’re successful.”
One of the things Davis identified as a need for minority, women and veteran contractors was educational training. According to Davis, you can never stop learning, no matter how good you get at your craft. So with the help of Skanska and the African American Chamber of Commerce of Central PA, the ACT program was born. The first session was held at the Penn State Harrisburg campus.
The program, which only costs participants $25, offers classes on doing business with Penn State and Skanska, human resources and risk management, estimating and bidding, construction accounting, and project management. Participants also earn their OSHA 30 certification, which often costs no less than $500 on its own.
At graduation, Davis admits he fought back tears listening to the personal stories of the participants; many of whom shared how ACT impacted them and their business in a positive way.
“I was greatly beaten down from the recession years,” said Arthur. “For my small business it left me hanging on by string. This is the first year I’ve seen recovery in landscaping projects here. I’m taking it slow until I am ready to do more. I’m also continuing to research and build the model of small affordable houses for the lower 30 percent of incomes I am working on. It includes building without government monies, which is actually an old fashioned concept of community involvement.”
Davis hopes this is just the beginning for the program. “I see it growing throughout the commonwealth, partnering with people with a like heart and mind to educate and train minority-, women-, and veteran-owned businesses,” said Davis. “Penn State is putting its money where its mouth is with this program. We’re serious. It’s going to take some time, but there’s a bigger picture here and Penn State is moving in the right direction.”
For more information on the Penn State Office of Physical Plant’s MBE/WBE program, please visit the OPP website.