Pine Bluff Rising announced Thursday the formation of a construction and trade alliance intended to connect local subcontractors with more work opportunities.

Pine Bluff Rising board member Ryan Watley said its purpose is to offer mentoring, job training and education to allow local subcontractors to bid successfully on projects. Subcontractors include electricians, plumbers and carpenters who are hired by general commercial contractors to complete smaller projects that are part of a larger construction project.

“People will need to meet a certain standard,” Watley, who is also an assistant director of development at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, said. “There will be intermediate people who just need a little help. There will be people who need help to start a construction firm.”

About 80 people attended the meeting at the Donald W. Reynolds Center. Watley said UAPB, Southeast Arkansas College and Jefferson Regional Medical Center will be doing projects. He asked people to join the construction and trade alliance.

“We cannot guarantee you anything but we can facilitate an opportunity for you to be in the know about jobs,” Watley said. “And if you submit yourself to a process, eventually you will participate in some of those developments.”

Watley said the trade union will identify all local subcontractors and evaluate their capacity to perform a given project. They would then either be connected with projects that match their skills, or be provided guidance and mentoring to improve their skills.

Watley discussed Go Forward Pine Bluff and its associated proposed five-eighths cent sales tax increase that its proponents say would generate $31.5 million over seven years and then sunset. He asked citizens to vote for this proposed tax increase on June 13. Supporters said another $20 million is expected to be generated over seven years from businesses, grants and donations. Evelyn Horton, a representative for Pine Bluff Mayor Shirley Washington, said Washington was attending a conference in Little Rock. Horton pledged her support for the construction and trade alliance, equating it to growing Pine Bluff.

“Our mayor, Shirley Washington, believes that we are one Pine Bluff: stronger together,” Horton said. “This is a great example of how citizens working together can offer mentoring, job training, and education to help local contractors compete for local projects and empower citizens in Pine Bluff. Pine Bluff is ready for a change in a new direction. Projects on our main street are on the move. Our schools from pre-K to college are producing talented young boys and girls [and] men and women. Our business community is working hard to invest in a stronger city.”

Van Tilbury, the chief executive officer and president of Little Rock-based East Harding Construction, recognized CBI and Con-Real as the three majority contractors that are “stepping forward in terms of mentorship.”

East Harding started a similar program in Little Rock in 2008 by which subcontractors were given a chance to bid on public construction projects. East Harding accepts the lowest, most qualified bidder. The contractors must abide by the rules.

“You have an opportunity to get on a project that might be bigger than one you’ve done before,” Tilbury said. ” … East Harding feels like [Pine Bluff] is our second home. Our first time in Pine Bluff was to be the construction manager for the building you’re in. That started in ‘02 and completed in ‘03. We’ve had a project going consistently in Pine Bluff for the last 15 years in one form or another.”

For more information, email