Gilbane Building Co. plans to award $4 billion in contracts over five years to certified disadvantaged business enterprises (DBEs) that include firms owned by minorities, women, and veterans, or are small, as part of what it calls a “comprehensive economic inclusion" program.

Thomas M. Laird Jr., president and CEO of the Providence, R.I., contractor, says the new commitment fulfills the company's inaugural ESG goal to drive economic opportunity by directly supporting diversity, equity and inclusion through professional capacity building.

“We know that economic inclusion strengthens our work and our projects, strengthens communities, and helps create greater impact for our clients,” said Laird in a March 8 announcement. Supporting diverse businesses via economic opportunity is central to Gilbane's long-term success and to industry growth, he added. 

Last year, Gilbane awarded $812 million in contracts to small and diverse businesses as part of a 20% participation target, finishing the year at 18% participation from firms. This year's kickoff of a multibillion-dollar commitment is meant to maximize participation from diverse and disadvantaged businesses, says Yvette Stevens, Gilbane vice president and director of economic inclusion and community affairs.

"We really want to continue to encourage participation in or inclusion of minority and other disadvantage category businesses in areas where we've seen participation in the past," she explains. "But we also want to make sure that we are helping to build capacity in some areas where we don't see as many diverse firms."

The company has historically seen high participation from interior service firms but less capacity from mechanical and electrical firms, for example, she says. 

Gilbane will generate contracts for certified businesses that fit within those categories and will also encourage its project contracting partners also to award them. "That means making sure that our projects have economic inclusion plans and our teams understand the capability and capacity of minority and disadvantaged businesses," says Stevens.  

Contract recipients also have the option to apply and receive mentoring and professional development in areas such as purchasing and estimating through Gilbane's 8-week Rising Contractor program that is designed to help build professional capacity. Participants are trained in business-related areas and upon completion of the program will be paired with a Gilbane mentor to further assist with bidding and business growth opportunities. 

A total of 138 firms have graduated from the Rising Contractor program since its inception in 2020.

Stevens explains that while participating in this program, firms are encouraged to also bid on contracts with Gilbane's competitors. 

"The point is not necessarily just to have them work on our projects," she says. "It's really to make sure that they are growing and developing, and we want to make sure in the areas where we live, we work and we play that we are providing that support to the contracting community."   

Setting clear diversity targets and tracking and measuring the impact of these efforts "means a more equitable, robust construction landscape tomorrow,” she adds.