In January 2017, Governor Gina Raimondo signed an executive order created the Working Group on Diversity in Construction, with the purpose of providing greater access to jobs for women and minorities.
This past Monday, she signed a follow-up executive order that would keep the committee together for another year.
During the event at New England Highway Technologies, 1538 Elmwood Avenue, Cranston, she and supporters of the order spoke and emphasized the importance of the law.
The location of the signing was valuable to the governor’s message. Richard Bisono, owner of the company that hosted the morning’s event, said his company has been at the Cranston location – his first and only location – for 14 years.
He said that he and the company do work throughout New England from Rhode Island to Massachusetts and Connecticut, but they mostly in the Ocean State.
He said the company, which focuses on traffic control, safety, and selling construction equipment such as signs, cones and hard hats, has done work with the Cranston Police, the City of Cranston, and the Department of Transportation.
“I love what I do, and I don’t see it as work; it’s a hobby for me,” Bisono said.
He added that he loves the people he works with – because he picked them – and he loves being in Cranston. He graduated from Cranston East and his oldest daughter goes there now.
Raimondo focused her comments on why there needs to be more access to jobs and funding for minorities.
“We can all agree to the value of diversity,” she said. “It takes work to make it a reality.”
She also provided statistics from the start of her tenure in office to the present. According to Raimondo, her administration has created 7,000 construction jobs, leading to a decrease in building trade unemployment from 25 percent to 2 percent.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, the construction unemployment rate for the Providence area leans closer to 3 percent, at 2.9.
The new executive order signed Monday allows room to “make sure everybody is at the table,” said Raimondo.
“Regardless of your gender, or the color of your skin, or the language you speak, we want you to participate in this economic development and so that’s what this is about,” she said.
She also said that the number of women in minority businesses has increased by 33 percent since 2015, which allowed the “utilization” of women in minority businesses throughout Rhode Island to triple in the last three years.
She urged state officials and constituents in the audience to “stay vigilant, so we can get that 33 percent higher and come back here in a year from a now and say we have more strategies, and more results.” Raimondo was not the only one to deliver remarks, and she gave the spot at the podium to Cheryl Burrell, associate director from the Office of Diversity, Equity and Opportunity.
Burrell said that at the working group’s initial meeting in April of 2017, people in attendance voiced their concerns over project labor agreements, which would in turn lead to a greater amount of participation from Minority Business Enterprises (MBE) firms; how the program needed to be a significant part of Rhode Island’s economic strategy; and finally how MBE firms needed assistance from the state with accessing capital.
She also explained how two subcommittees formed when the working group was established - one being the Resource Access and Workforce Subcommittee, which examines the issues presented in terms of the lack of utilization of MBEs and firms with people with disabilities.
Burrell said that when this happened, two reports were sent to Governor Raimondo’s office on April 27. The reports stated that projects needed to be split up in order for MBEs to manage the work and efficiently complete it, and that there needed to be language agreements.
“This is not a problem that is going to be solved in short time,” she said. “These issues are deeply rooted and have been ongoing for many, many years.”
Darrell Waldron, a co-chair of the working group, elaborated on this.
“There is just so much money available for minority and female contractors that we could not spend it in twenty lifetimes,” he said. “The idea is to get access.”
He went on to say that the minority community is “buzzing” and that “this is the opportunity that’s a game changer.”
Barbara Thornton, another co-chair, said that they “raised awareness of a great deal as to the barriers that stand between the small business, the women in business, the minority business.”