The community group Pine Bluff Rising will host a meeting Thursday night to announce the formation of a construction and trade alliance intended to connect local subcontractors with more work opportunities.
The meeting will take place at 6 p.m. at the Donald W. Reynolds Center.
Pine Bluff Rising announced in a press release on its website, pinebluffrising.wordpress.com, that it is establishing “a network of EVERY local subcontractor in Pine Bluff to facilitate their business growth, project capacity, and community impact through partnering with large established general partners.”
Ryan Watley, a professor and assistant director of development at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, as well as a board member of Pine Bluff Rising, said the goal is to offer mentoring, job training and education to allow local subcontractors to bid successfully on projects. Increasing the number of qualified local contractors is especially crucial if the $50 million Go Forward Pine Bluff plan becomes a reality, Watley said. The plan’s proponents hope to keep as much of the money invested in that project local.
Mary Pringos, chairman of the Go Forward Pine Bluff task force, said Go Forward supported the alliance.
“We told them we thought that was a wonderful idea,” Pringos said. “Hopefully when the tax passes, they will have started this, and we can get some people some opportunities to have some jobs.”
Organizers of the trade union hope to identify all local subcontractors and evaluate their capacity to complete a given project. They would then either be connected with projects that match their skills, or provided guidance and mentoring to improve their skills.
Subcontractors are workers such as electricians, plumbers and carpenters who are hired by general commercial contractors to complete smaller projects that are part of a larger construction project.
“[The alliance] will show how to put together professional bids and estimates to help facilitate business transactions,” Watley said. “Local subcontractors often don’t have the administrative support” to both do the paperwork to submit a bid and to execute the project.
Watley said he’s reached out to employees in charge of facilities and construction at UAPB and Jefferson Regional Medical Center to attend the meeting to provide information to contractors interested in bidding on future projects. He’s also reached out to representatives from local banks and insurance agencies for the same reason.
Robert Wall, physical plant director at UAPB, said Watley had asked him to attend the meeting to provide subcontractors technical information about the process of doing construction for UAPB and the State of Arkansas.
“The University of Arkansas construction [project] guidelines are about 300 pages long,” Wall said. “There’s a lot of legal information.”
During construction on UAPB’s $10 million STEM building, which opened in 2014, Wall said much of the subcontracting work was performed by local and minority laborers. Still, contractors sometimes miss out on contracts because they do not have enough capacity, or don’t know how to navigate other parts of the process.
“We often deal with small and minority contractors who don’t quite understand what our bid process is, and wonder why they don’t get selected for certain contracts,” Wall said.
Watley hopes the alliance ultimately helps local contractors climb a crucial next step or two up the economic latter.
“Overall, we’re going to create more middle class individuals through this process,” he said.