As the sponsor of two of the largest construction projects under way in the United States, New York City’s Metropolitan Transit Authority is one of the bigger players in construction and a vendor of significant opportunities for MWDBE (Minority, Women, Disabled Business Enterprise) contractors.

Projects such as the MTA’s $8-billion East Side Access or $4-billion Second Avenue Subway could present a barrier to MWDBE firms just from their size alone. In fact magnitude and legislative restrictions were a barrier, so with the backing of New York State Assemblyman Keith Wright, “We changed the law,” Michael Garner, MTA’s chief diversity officer, said at ENR’s 6th Annual MTA MWDBE Conference.

Garner and his team have put together a mentoring program for MWDBE contractors that, he says, is a “national model, because it focuses on solutions, not problems.”

“We now have more projects than contractors,” Garner said, adding that he has had to scale back his program this year but still has $80 million that is available now.

The MTA includes New York City’s subway and bus systems, the Metro-North and Long Island Railroad commuter trains, and seven bridges and tunnels.

Capital projects within that system range from the huge rail expansion projects already mentioned, to contracts for painting bridges and renovating train stations.

Within each of the MTA’s divisions there are individual opportunities. The New York City transit system is looking for an extra $15 billion in funding to support its capital plans, David Cannon, MTA’s senior director and chief procurement officer, said. The MTA’s capital construction division has two projects in the $100 million range, both with 17% MWDBE goals. LIRR is looking to issue bids in the next six months for jobs in the $15 million to $20 million range and in September expects to release bids to upgrade platform at the system’s Wantagh and Hicksville stations. The Metro-North division is looking to issue bids in July for work to be done at Grand Central Terminal. And this summer Gavin Masterson, vice president and chief procurement officer of bridges and tunnels, said the division plans to issue bids for work to be done on the Verrazano-Narrows, Throgs Neck and Bronx Whitestone bridges.

The MTA and its MWDBE programs are where the action is, according to Edward Campanella, president of MBI Group, who also spoke at the conference. “Keep all the rest of that [stuff]. This is the agency to talk to,” he said.

Campanella’s firm is an good example of the opportunities and successes that the MTA’s diversity program offers, Garner said on the sidelines of the conference.  “Anyone who can bust through this maze and build a $100 million business, he is doing something good.”